Ghost In The Machine (Halloween Heroics)
Bridge Carson slowly walked through the halls of Delta Base Headquarters, a shake in his gait, a nervous, wary expression on his face, and a pair of wireless earbuds sticking out of the sides of his head . The audio book service he subscribed to was having a sale on horror works to mark the month, and while the young cadet wasn’t the biggest fan of terrifying tales, he wanted to take advantage of the discount and maybe catch up on some classics. Now, as the words of H.P. Lovecraft echoed through his head, provided by a narrator who was obviously a master at creepy voices. He was beginning to regret his impulse buy. But as frightened as he was, Bridge still wanted to know just how the story ended.
“The speaking impulse seemed to falter here, as if some frightful psychic struggle were going on,” the narrator’s recited in an ominous timber. “Henry Wheeler strained his eye at the telescope, but saw only the three grotesquely silhouetted human figures on the peak, all moving their arms furiously in strange gestures as their incantation drew near its culmination. From what black wells of Acherontic fear or feeling, from what unplumbed gulfs of extra-cosmic consciousness or obscure, long-latent heredity, were those half-articulate thunder-croakings drawn? Presently they began to gather renewed force and coherence as they grew in stark, utter, ultimate frenzy.”
Hesitantly, Bridge quickly craned his neck to look over both shoulders. He could swear he was being watched. A sudden trill of eerie music accompanied the pained cries of the monster in the story. “HELP! HELP! FATHER! FATHER! YOG-SOTHOTH!”
“BOO!” A pair of hands grabbed Bridge from behind. The Ranger let out a startled yelp as he jumped forward in shock. Recovering his footing, he turned around to discover what had scared him. It was no ghost or extradimensional entity, but something all too familiar. Standing in the hall several feet back was his colleague Jack Landors, who was almost doubled over from laughter.
“Oh man…” Jack managed to say as he caught his breath, “that was too good. The look on your face…” he couldn’t finish his sentence as the laughs kept coming.
“Yeah, real funny,” a still startled Bridge curtly shot back. “You know we’re on the same team? Partners don’t give each other heart attacks.”
“Lighten up, man,” Jack said defensively. “It’s Halloween. It’s the time for scaring others.”
“Maybe if you’re still a little boy,” a dismissive voice joined in the conversation. The two men looked down the hall to see their colleague Sydney Drew walking their way. Rather than her normal attire, she was wearing a pink unitard, bright red boots and gloves, a flowing red cape, and a headpiece that went across her forehead and covered her ears on the sides. “For those of us who are more mature, Halloween is an opportunity to socialize while indulging in personal fantasies.”
Jack whistled at her costume. “Fancy threads, Syd. Who’re you supposed to be?”
“The Scarlet Witch.” Syd posed with her hands clasped over her head. “One of my favorite superheroes. She was brave, fashionable, and didn’t suffer fools lightly. Just like me.”
“Yeah, well I’m glad you’re having fun,” Jack said, “but you won’t ever catch me dressing up. That’s kids’ stuff right there.”
“Come on, Jack, be a little more open minded,” Bridge encouraged him. “There’s nothing wrong with going all out on Halloween. You know, last year at the cadet costume party, I came in second place for my Wonder Woman outfit.”
Jack gave his friend a strong incredulous glare.
“He’s not joking,” Syd dryly informed him. “I have the pictures.”
Before Jack had an opportunity to respond, heavy footsteps could be heard thudding through the corridor. The trio took notice as Boom, the ever-eager technician, was racing towards them. “Thank goodness you’re all still here,” he said, slightly out of breath. “Kat, that is Miss Manx, that is Doctor Manx, wants to run a new simulation program in the training chamber. She needs you there right away.”
“Seriously?!” Syd pouted, clenching her fists at her sides. “I was just about to head out for my friend’s party!”
“It won’t take long, I promise,” Boom tried to reassure her. “I’m sorry, but you three are the only ones here. We can’t do it with anyone else.”
The Rangers understood his dilemma. Sky, Z, and Commander Cruger were all currently off-world, assisting Commander Birdie to take down a weapon smuggling ring on Onyx. Syd was feeling a growing sense of guilt at the idea of turning down Kat’s request after all she’d done for the team. “Fine, I’ll be right there,” she sighed. “Just let me get changed and tell Allison I’ll be late.”
“Great!” Boom smiled. “See you all in the training area.”
Minutes later, the three Rangers were all assembled in the holographic simulation chamber used to run different scenarios for SPD officers. Outside the enclosed room, Kat and Boom watched the group through a monitor on the control panel. “So what are we supposed to do?” Bridge asked.
“As S.P.D cadets, you must be prepared for any possible threat to our planet,” Kat informed them through the speaker system. “You’ve already encountered a number of dangerous alien criminals with their own extraordinary abilities, but you haven’t been exposed to every scenario. To remedy that, Commander Cruger and I have been in touch with several organizations that Rangers worked for in the past to compile data on their enemies. We have information on more than a thousand different monsters and aliens, as well as replicating their power sets perfectly. This will enable you to adapt and overcome should you run into any evildoers with similar abilities in the future.”
“So it’s like a video game boss rush,” Jack grinned. “All right, I’m down with that.”
Boom accessed the database window and scrolled through an index of different monsters that had tangled with at least one Power Ranger team in the past. “Let’s go with something seasonally appropriate to start off with.” He rubbed his hands and accessed the file.
In mere seconds the appearance of the simulation room transformed, changing from sterile blue metal walls with visible lights to an eerie graveyard draped in fog. From behind one of the tombstones a figure emerged. It was humanoid in appearance, but the Rangers noticed its body was orange with green vines wrapped around its arms, legs, and torso, while its head was an oversized upside-down jack-o-lantern.
“Hey there Rangers; ready to fight? You fools won’t survive this night!” the plant creature addressed the team with a malicious sing-song voice.
Syd appeared greatly confused. “What… the heck is that thing?”
“That’s the Pumpkin Rappper, an enemy of the original Angel Grove team,” Boom explained. “Don’t underestimate him. According to the file, he’ll try to distract you with his raps and rhymes, then go in for the kill.”
Jack rolled his eyes. “Just what the world needs; another wannabe rapper. This is gonna be easy.” He looked over at his partners with a cocky swagger. “Who’s up for some pumpkin pie?”
“Well I prefer sweet potato pie, to be honest,” Bridge responded, only half-getting the joke, “but yeah, let’s get him.” The Rangers all ran towards their virtual foe
“Oh you punks think you’re so tough. Now it’s time to get really rough!” A long vine covered in flowers materialized in Pumpkin Rapper’s hands. The monster threw it out like a lasso, the solid light technology in the simulation chamber’s projection system making it tangible as it wrapped around Bridge’s legs, causing him to trip.
“Ugh… okay, maybe he won’t be that easy,” an embarrassed Bridge muttered as he worked on freeing himself.
“Of course he will!” Jack called back to him. “You just gotta have better rhythm than him!” To demonstrate his point, he and Syd began weaving around to dodge the projectile pumpkins the monster was throwing at them, along with the explosions they produced after landing. They finally managed to get in close enough to land a series of blows, sending Pumpkin Rapper reeling with pained grunts.
Bridge quickly managed to free himself and joined the fray, smacking Pumpkin Rapper in the face with a swift side jab.
“Rap’s never been my thing,” Syd quipped, retrieving the chunk of iron ore from her pouch to harden her skin. “I’ve always been more of a metal girl myself.” She delivered a flurry of rapid punches to the monster’s pumpkin head, her now metallic fist dealing intense damage.
“I’m more of an old school rock fan,” Bridge remarked. “My band is Smashing Pumpkins.” Jack and Syd rolled their eyes at his lame joke, and even the monster couldn’t help but groan at the wordplay. He seemed disappointed. “Really? Syd’s was okay but mine-?”
“Forget the jokes and let’s keep on task,” Syd insisted. “We’ll finish up soon, and then I can get to my party.”
The lighting in the chamber suddenly dimmed, casting the cemetery into twilight. Boom was taken aback by what he saw. “What the? I… I didn’t do that.”
“Having fun, Rangers?!” A harsh gravelly voice came over the intercom system.
“Who’s that?” Syd asked.
“I don’t know…” Bridge answered. “But they sound familiar.” On an inquisitive impulse he removed his glove to see if he could pick up on the aura of the unknown intruder. He shuddered when he sensed a rush of unbridled hatred and malice.
The mysterious voice continued speaking. “I’ve been having fun myself. Watching you fight is quite entertaining when I’m not on the receiving end of your blows. But this fight seems so unfair. Why don’t we even the playing field a bit?”
Streams of light from the projection system focused on two spots on both sides of Pumpkin Rapper, instantly taking form. To the plant creature’s right was a skeleton clad in armor reminiscent of a medieval knight, while to his right a female creature with onyx black skin and a pair of bat-like wings protruding from the back of her head. “Now it’s a true monster mash!” the voice declared.
“I live again!” the skeleton warrior triumphantly proclaimed, bearing his sword. “And you wretched Rangers will soon be occupying these graves.”
“Be sure to leave some for me,” the bat woman chimed in, rubbing the sharp points of her claws together. “I’ve wanted to sink my fangs into a Ranger for some time now.”
“Three against three, and you’ll soon see, we’re the best there’s ever gonna be!” Pumpkin Rapper declared.
The Rangers huddled together as they assessed the new threats. “Who are these creeps supposed to be?” Jack asked.
“I remember them from my Ranger History courses,” Bridge told him. “That’s Skelekron, an enemy of the Galaxy Rangers. And the other one is Necrolai.” His eyes widened as he looked at the vampiress. “But you shouldn’t be here. You reformed. You’re one of the good guys now!”
“Funny. I must not have gotten the memo,” Necrolai scoffed. She leaped towards Bridge, knocking him to the ground with a flying kick.
“What is this, ‘Pick on Bridge Day’?” Bridge moaned as he picked himself up.
Jack normally tried to keep a cool, aloof demeanor, but he couldn’t mask his worry. “Uh, Kat, I think we’re done with the training exercise. You can shut it down.”
“I’m trying,” Kat nervously explained as she continued to enter commands on the keyboard. “It won’t let me end the program. I’m locked out.”
Boom sprang up from his seat. “I’ll shut off the power to the chamber.” He raced over to another control station on the opposite side of the room, reaching for a switch that would instantly terminate the simulation room’s power flow. The instant he touched the switch, however, a jolt of electricity erupted from the panel. With a pained yelp he was knocked to the floor.
“Boom!” Kat rushed over to help her assistant back to his feat, giving him a quick check to make sure he wasn’t badly injured
The voice laughed at the technician’s pain. “Nice try, reject Ranger, but I’m running the show here. I’ve got complete control of all the equipment in this room, so there’s no way you’re ending the program before I’m done with the Rangers. And don’t even think about trying to get help. The doors are locked and the intercom is disabled.”
Jack grunted. Their enemy was several steps ahead. But maybe he didn’t account for every contingency. “They might not be able to get out, but I can!” He ran for the side of the room, which had taken on the appearance of a weathered stone wall to match the setting, and attempted to phase through using his intangibility. To his shock, Jack wasn’t able to pass through. “What gives?!”
“The projectors have been modified to generate an energy barrier around the room,” the voice told him. “Like I said, you’re not going anywhere.”
Jack regrouped with the others as the monsters started advancing on them. “Looks like we’ve gotta bring out the big guns.” He retrieved his Delta Morpher. “Ready?”
Bridge and Syd nodded, pulling out their own morphers. “S.P.D. Emergency!” The trio was imbued with the powers of the Morphing Grid, and in a fraction of a second, were transformed into the Red, Green, and Pink Rangers. “You freaks are going down!” Jack attempted to intimidate the monsters.
Both groups rushed each other, pairing off for individual fights. Jack found himself tangling with Skelekron. Standing at a distance, he began firing his Delta Blasters at the undead monster. Skelekron, however, managed to block every blast with his shield. “Fool! Your weapons are useless against me!” the monster taunted him.
“You haven’t seen everything I’ve got!” the Red Ranger shot back, running directly towards the bony barbarian while his phasing power allowed him to pass directly through the tombstones littering the ground. He got directly in Skelkron’s face and took a swing with his Deltamax Striker. He got the creature in the ribs, though Skelektron quickly retaliated with a blow from his own sword. Jack recoiled slightly before getting back into the fray. Blades clashed as both opponents took swing after swing, dodging and maneuvering in an attempt to get the upper hand and deliver the coup de grace.
Syd was flailing her own Striker around as she tried to land a hit on Necrolai. The vile vampire wasn’t giving her an easy time, flitting around through the air to dodge the attacks, then swooping in to deliver a slash with her claws. Eventually Syd grew tired of the one sided fight and decided to fake her opponent out. She feinted at a strike to Necrolai’s left. The monster took the bait, switching directions in midair. Happy that her plan worked, Syd jumped up and to the left, colliding with Necrolai and delivering a hard metallic punch clear to her jaw. Necrolai was sent tumbling to the ground from the shock. The Pink Ranger let out a triumphant “Ha!” as she landed. “I heard you vampires didn’t like silver, but I guess you can’t handle iron either.”
“Foolish girl!” Necrolai mocked Syd as she regained her footing. “Iron has no real effect on a vampire unless it’s been blessed.”
“Then we’d better bless it. Say your prayers!” Both women howled as they charged at each other once more.
Naturally, Bridge was engaged with Pumpkin Rapper once again. But this time the Green Ranger was handling himself much better, evading most of the nimble monster’s attacks. Bridge hit hard with several swipes of his Striker, along with a few jabs from his Deltamax Knuckle. “There won’t be enough left of you to make pumpkin pie,” Bridge taunted the monster. “Though that’s not a big loss. I always preferred sweet potato pie myself.”
“Listen to me kid, your jokes are lame. All I wanna do is kill ’em with flame!” Pumpkin Rapper conjured up several more of his gourd bombs and tossed them at the Green Ranger. Bridge dodged the first one, but he missed evading the second. The explosion caught him from behind and flung him straight into Pumpkin Rapper’s arms. With the easy target he was given, the monster hit hard and fast before throwing Bridge to the ground. He then produced another pair of bombs and tossed one at each of the other Rangers.
Neither Jack or Syd saw the bombs coming their way. They were both caught off guard by the blasts, giving their foes an opportunity. Skelekron began bashing the Red Ranger with his shield until he was struggling to defend himself, before knocking him back with a bony kick. Necrolai used the cover provided by the smoke and debris to get above Syd, dive bombing the Pink Ranger repeatedly until she was also on the floor. The Rangers attempted to pull themselves up, struggling and panting. Their enemies were much deadlier than they had anticipated.
From the control room, Kat and a still shocked Boom could only watch helplessly as the Rangers were beaten down. “Don’t give up…” the cat-like alien pleaded. “You can overcome this. I know you can.”
“This is all too perfect,” the disembodied voice gloated. “Wiping out three S.P.D. Rangers in one go. I’ll be regarded as one of the greatest criminals in the galaxy after this victory!”
That’s it! A flash of insight sparked in Bridge’s mind. Like most criminals, their unseen foe had an ego. Maybe he could exploit that to help his team get the upper hand, or even find a way to escape. Beneath his helmet, the Green Ranger smiled. He was confident this would work. “Who would ever believe it was you?” he asked, looking up towards the ceiling. It was impossible to tell where their enemy was located, but this was the best he could manage. “Sure, you can go around telling everyone you took us out, but you won’t have any proof. They’ll all think it was a glitch in the simulation program, and they’ll think you’re nothing but a pathetic liar trying to claim glory you never earned.”
“What is he doing?” Syd whispered to Jack, confused by her partner’s sudden posturing.
“I don’t know,” her partner admitted, “but I hope he realizes that making the psycho hacker angry isn’t doing us any good.”
Bridge continued his taunt. “If you really want to be known as the one who brought down three of SPD’s finest… okay, we’re still B-Squad, but I think we’ve done pretty well out in the field – you know what I mean. If you want the fame, you’re going to have get your hands dirty yourself.”
“Fine then!” the voice barked. “It will bring me more pleasure to personally finish you off anyway.”
A new figure began to materialize in front of the trio of monsters, slowly building itself together from solidifying data. It eventually coalesced into a familiar form; a humanoid figure whose horned head, shoulders and legs were covered in deep yellow dermal plates, while the rest of his body was clad in a long white robe. An electronic device resembling two interconnected diamonds was mounted on his left sleeve.
“Tomars…” Boom gasped as he watched the alien criminal re-emerge. He remembered too well the last encounter he’d had with that maniac, and wasn’t eager for another round
“Wait, how can you be here?” a shocked Syd asked. “Boom cut the connection when you tried to enter the base. You should have been deleted.”
Tomars scoffed. “You’re right, I most certainly should have. But by a stroke of fate, my data was scattered instead of simply being destroyed. I’ve spent months hiding in the Delta Base systems, gradually piecing myself back together as I searched for fragments across your network. It felt like an eternity, but it was all worth it. Now I’m fully restored, and ready to have my revenge.” A large bladed staff appeared in his hand, which he leveled at the Rangers. “You Rangers left me for dead. Allow me to return the favor!”
With a fierce battle cry, Tomars charged at the SPD Rangers, the monster copies joining in the rush.
Bridge gritted his teeth. He hoped this would work. “Kat, shut it down now!”
“On it!” Kat responded by queueing up the termination sequence on the computer, which was now responding to her inputs. The three simulated monsters froze in place before vanishing. Tomars looked around in disbelief as the graveyard setting also began to fade away, restoring the sterile natural appearance of the training room. “What happened? Where are my soldiers?!”
“I wanted to draw you out, but I didn’t know just how you were controlling the systems,” Bridge explained, pacing back and forth as was his habit. “Once you told us that you had been hiding inside, I had the answer. If you’re out here, then you can’t be manipulating things. So Kat would have to have control again.”
“Nice thinking, Bridge,” Jack complimented him. Though the Red Ranger rarely admitted it to preserve his image, he was regularly impressed by his friend’s eccentric yet accurate insights of genius.
“Bah!” Tomars scoffed. “I don’t need those pathetic programs to help me. I can take you all on myself!”
Tomars quickly came to regret his boast. While he landed a few early hits, the three against one fight soon played out like the earlier battle against Pumpkin Rapper, with the Rangers getting in hit after hit and evading all of Tomars’ attacks. Clearly he wasn’t back at full strength yet. Soon he was doubled over in pain, the Rangers standing back to size up their weakened foe.
“Time we put an end to this, and we won’t leave any loose ends,” Syd declared”You got him to expose himself, Bridge; you should have the honors.”
“Thanks, Syd.” The Green Ranger activated his morpher’s Judgment Scanner and aimed it at Tomars. “Tomars, you are charged with sabotaging S.P.D. property and the attempted murder of three of its officers.”
“You’re nuts if you think I’m gonna spend the rest of my life in one of those stupid cards!” Tomars insisted. The alien criminal quickly started tapping buttons on his wrist-mounted transporter. “I’m getting out of here, but next time, I will finish the job!”
“No you don’t!” Jack quickly interjected, firing a blast from his pistol. The energy beam struck the transporter, causing it to spark and sputter wildly.
“No!” Tomars yelled out in shock as his body began to distort, some parts becoming transparent. “What have you doooo-” And then he was gone. Completely disappeared.
The Rangers were having trouble grasping what happened. “Where… where’d he go?” Syd asked.
“Tomars’ teleportation device allowed him access to the wavelengths of different dimensions,” Kat told them. “With no way to control it, he could be lost anywhere in the multiverse.”
“After what he put us through, I hope he ended up someplace awful,” Jack snorted.
The Red Ranger had no idea how accurate he was. In another realm of existence, in the courtroom of an elaborate palace that stood out amidst the remains of a ruined city, two heavily-armed men in black armor dragged a figure in a white robe before the throne in the center of the room.
“We found this freak intruding on private grounds without identification, Lord Drakkon,” one of the Mammoth Sentries informed their leader. “We brought him here so you could pass judgment for his transgression.”
The figure on the throne leaned forward, better revealing himself under the light: long hair flowing down over the back of his elaborate green and white armor; a cold, cruel expression on his scarred face. “Well, what have you to say for yourself?”
Tomars cleared his throat. He could sense a great evil from this stranger, one rivaling that of Emperor Gruumm. Until he could repair his transporter he was stuck in this dimension, so he had to play his cards right if he wanted to survive. “Oh great Lord Drakkon, I am Tomars, and I was merely attempting to seek you out so that I could humbly offer my services to you.”
Drakkon leaned back and put his hands together in contemplation. “Tell me, then, what can you do for me?”
2 thoughts on “Ghost In The Machine (Halloween Heroics)”
That was really fun and you got me with the introduction of Pumpkin Rapper. That got a chuckle outta me.
Thanks. I had to include Pumpkin Rapper as he is the unofficial PR monster of Halloween. It was actually harder finding the other two to include, but I thankfully found the answers. Necrolai was very fun to write for.