Delphine waved her hand over the door sensor and stepped into the main living pod. "Delphine!"
She looked up as Aurico called her name. "Hello, Aurico," she said, linking her hands together and bowing in friendly greeting.
He bowed back and then tilted his head slightly, a light tinge of worry echoing from his thoughts. "Your meeting did not go well with Master Artus?"
"He is very firm in his belief that we do not need more envoys to other planets," she said.
Aurico sighed. "Master Maro shares that belief as well." He clasped his hands behind his back and followed Delphine as she headed for the common room. "He endeavours to try and convince me that I should instead work for the town eldership."
Delphine projected amusement at the thought. Aurico sent back fond exasperation. "I would not be that bad at it."
"Have the others returned?" she asked, rather than call him on his lie.
He hummed an affirmative. "You were the last one. As always." He waved open the door. "Tideus has been regaling us with another story," he said as they entered the common room.
"It is a historical legend," said Tideus, waving a sign of annoyance at Aurico. "There is always a seed of truth to legends."
Delphine took a moment to take the room in. Cestro was sitting on one of the benches around the main dining table, tinkering with a strange mechanical device. Tideus was beside him, having gone back to murmuring at Crocus, who was seated across from them, and pointing at an old map between them. Crocus was looking from the old map to a newer one on his navigation tablet. Cestria was bustling about the table, setting out an elaborate meal.
"And what is the seed of truth in a legend about an artificial life form called Ninjor who grants magical powers to those who seek them?" asked Aurico. He poked at the map and Delphine caught a wisp of amusement from him when Tideus got indignant and started to argue with him.
Leaving them to it, she turned to Cestria. "What is the occasion?" she asked, gesturing to the meal.
"I am the only one who remembers that it is the fourth anniversary of our first meeting, aren't I?" said Cestria, smiling at Delphine. She placed a plate of food beside Corcus' elbow and then placed her hand on the screen of the tablet to get his attention. "Eat, brother."
Delphine thought back as she sat down. Had it been four years already? It didn't feel like it had been so long ago that they had been randomly assigned to the same living dorm while they attended their separate studies. She gratefully accepted a plate of food from Cestria and sent feelings of affection towards all five of them. She could not have asked for a better schooling pod.
"Whatcha looking at, Jade?" asked Sun as she sidled up to her sister. She was absently twirling one of her antennae around her finger.
Jade gestured towards the viewing screen which showed a very blue planet in the centre of the screen. "What's it look like, dummy? It's a planet!" She deliberately flipped one of her green braids over her shoulder so that it smacked her sister in the face.
"Hey!" Sun squawked, swatting at the braid. "Ugh, is this another one of your 'let's make the ninja empire huge because I wanna impress my imaginary future legend husband' things?"
"He's not imaginary. Lothar is listed on the Scroll of Destiny. He will come. He will marry me. And we are gonna rule this galaxy." Jade huffed and tapped at the console to pull up the prelim report on the new planet. "Including… Aquitar, mostly water people, no Rangers, keeps to itself. Easy pickings."
"Uh hunh," said Sun, sounding bored. "So, I was thinking. I'm gonna name my first daughter Kapri, and then Marah for my second." Jade turned away from the screen to give her a glare. Sun held up her hands. "What? You're the one who got stuck with the arraigned marriage from a dusty old scroll. I'm gonna have kids and raise them to terrorize the galaxy and there's no stupid papers that say otherwise." She stuck her tongue out at Jade, then flounced out of the control room.
Jade sighed. "If you're gonna sulk, get the troops ready first!" she shouted. She heard a faint 'yeah, yeah' in reply and turned back to the screen to check the information scroll across the bottom. "Why don't we have control of the planet's communications yet?" She glared at the Bacti ninja to her left. It blubbed at her in a panic. She smacked it upside the head. "Quit slacking off. We're on a schedule!"
It blubbed again and frantically started pushing buttons.
They were just finishing dinner when a loud shrieking tore through the air. Delphine cried out, trying to cover her ears. The shrieking cut out just as abruptly as it started. Delphine paused for a moment to catch her breath. "Is everyone alright?"
"I think so," said Cestro. He was still clutching his contraption to his chest. Delphine waved her hands over his aura, making sure. Cestria was doing the same to Tideus and Corcus. Aurico gave his ears a final rub and then started checking Delphine's aura.
Suddenly, the living pod shook from the force of an explosion in the waters nearby. The alarms started clicking, echoing warnings throughout the reef. Delphine stood up, pulling Cestro with her. "We must go. Quickly. Central evacuation pod." She projected her sense of urgency to the others.
Cestro clutched his contraption more firmly and spun to fetch his emergency toolkit from the wall, the others following him. Cestria grabbed the medkit. Aurico picked up a foodkit, passed it to Delphine and took a second one to carry himself. Corcus kept ahold of his tablet, but also picked up a shelter kit. Tideus stuffed his ancient map into his tunic and grabbed a hydration kit. Delphine considered telling Tideus to leave the map, but changed her mind. He sometimes needed the comfort of his studies to calm his nerves.
She waved the door open and led the rest of them down the hall towards the community escape pods. Another explosion shook the living pod and she quickly grabbed the wall to steady herself as they kept going. It only took them a few minutes, but the explosions were steadily increasing in frequency. As the hall began to connect with other halls, more students were joining their trek. Delphine found herself constantly looking back, checking that she hadn't lost any of her five friends.
They stumbled into the escape pod room and Delphine breathed a sigh of relief. She led the way to their designated pod, ignoring the people who seemed more intent on talking to each other, waving the door open so that they could start storing the emergency kits inside. Cestria hesitated, barely glancing at her brother when he took her case from her and loaded it into the pod. She stared up at the domed ceiling.
"Sister?" said Corcus.
"The explosions have stopped," said Cestria. "Did you not notice? Perhaps it is over."
Delphine glanced around. No one else was prepping their pods. The information screens were blank. The alarm was also silent. The shrieking sound tore through the air again. Many of the Aquitians collapsed in pain. All the vid screens flickered to life, revealing a strange woman with large animal ears and green hair that lay in two long plaits down over an outfit that looked like some kind of odd leather armour.
"And now that I have your attention," said the woman, "allow me to introduce myself. I am Jade. I am your new ruler." There was a crackling noise and suddenly dozens of strange bipeds appeared in the room amongst the students. They looked like Aquitians from the neck down, but were dressed in formfitting blue outfits, with black gloves and boots. Their faces were warped, almost looking like melted masks. The woman on screen gestured to them. "This is my army. Surrender now. Bye!" She smiled brightly and the image cut out.
There was a pause, then the army charged forward, making a strange blubbing noise as they started to subdue the students. Delphine glanced at her friends quickly. They had no weapons, no real combat experience and no room in the pod for extras. "Get in the pod," she ordered. She couldn't save everyone, but she could save them. She tightened her grip on the emergency kit in her hand and then smashed it across the face of one of the army grunts.
She started keying in the pass codes to launch their pod. "Delphine!" cried Aurico, pulling her back as another grunt swung at her. He kicked its knee and it stumbled into the console hard, making both it and the console spark. She flared her gills at the fallen grunt and punched in the launch code. The console bleeped an error message. She punched in the code again and again, it bleeped an error message.
"Something's wrong!" she said. "Cestro!" She spun, kicking a grunt in the knee and then smashing her kit into its face. Corcus and Tideus were in the pod, peering out anxiously. Cestria was standing by the door, looking just as worried.
Cestro scrambled to the console, frantically tapping buttons. "It damaged the launch protocols," he said. "I think I can rewire it, but someone will have to hold down the buttons so that the pod will launch."
"Someone will have to stay behind?" asked Aurico.
"I am sorry," Cestro said, staring helplessly at the console. "The automatic functions are beyond repair."
Delphine yelped in pain as one of the grunts hit her hard in the side. She staggered back, stopping only when Cestria caught her. "Aurico, get Cestro into the pod, Corcus, get ready to fly." She stood up, blocked a punch from a grunt, gripped its arm and flipped it onto the ground, kicking its stomach. "What button do I push?" she asked Cestro. She nodded when she received the image of the large yellow button.
Two of the grunts charged her, pushing her back towards the pod. She slammed into Aurico, knocking him and Cestro fully into the pod. She kicked out, catching one grunt across the face, while the other ducked. Delphine spotted Cestria by the launch console, surrounded by three grunts. "No!" she cried as the second grunt in front of her slammed her half into the pod.
It gave a bleep of recognition of launch, engines powering up. Delphine snarled and flung the grunt away. She scrambled towards Cestria, who was now surrounded by four more grunts. "Cestria!" Corcus echoed her cry of panic. She caught the door before it could slide closed, the gears squealing in protest. Tideus and Aurico rushed to help. Cestro started frantically tapping buttons on one of the consoles.
Cestria met her eyes with a smile as Delphine tried to figure out some way to get to her. "Go," she said, projecting nothing but trust and calm. "Find a way to save us." Then she raised her hand and sent a blast of water at Delphine, knocking her and the others into the pod. The door slammed shut and the pod took off, oblivious to the five of them shouting their protests.
"That's a lot of escape pods," said Sun from behind Jade.
Jade rolled her eyes. "Only about twenty. We disabled all nav functions when we first started blasting. I'm just gonna let them wander around in a panic for a bit while I handle the planet. The Bacti can clean them up later."
"Oh, we could send some of those new minions Mom got us! The Kelzak thingies!"
She opened her mouth to shoot down the idea, but hesitated. It would be smart to see how they handle before taking them into a real battle. "Yeah," said Jade, grinning. "Good idea, sis."
Cestro gave a burst of frustration, anger and panic as he sat back. "I can not make the navigation work," he said. "It is as if there was no missing data to retrieve at all."
"What about line of sight navigation?" asked Aurico. "Corcus is the best pilot on Aquitar, if we plot a course using what we see through the front windows, perhaps we can get somewhere with help."
"It is not like traveling through one of the oceans," said Corcus. "Space does not have the currents, or the landmarks. The distances are far vaster and it is too easy to make a mistake." He held up his small nav tablet. "Even using my tablet, we would have little hope."
"What about a shorter flight?" asked Delphine. "Could you use it to get us to the Moon?"
"I would need a starting point," said Corcus. "And we don't know where we are."
Cestro brightened. "Our scanner still works. I believe I could calculate where we are in orbit of Aquitar, and from there, I can plot the Moon's course."
"Even if we get to the Moon, there is not much there that can help us," said Aurico.
"Yes there is!" cried Tideus, holding up his ancient map. "And it is a route that we already had mostly plotted onto Corcus' tablet!" He gave off a sense of hope.
"You wish us to chase after a myth?" said Aurico. "On a quest through…" he glanced at the map. "…The Forest of Dread? All on the slight chance that we might encounter the great robotic Ninjor?"
Delphine leaned over for a better look at Tideus' map. "We do not have many options, Aurico," she said. "The legend may be false, but there may be something there we can use. And it is more than we currently have."
Aurico looked around at the rest of them and the sent out agreement. "Yes, you are right."
"Let us begin," said Delphine. The other four gave a short bow of agreement. Cestro turned back to the consoles and started tapping buttons, Tideus settled beside him with the map and Corcus's nav tablet. Corcus settled into the pilot's seat, shifting the pod until Delphine could see Aquitar in the front window. She gestured for Aurico to help her with organizing their supplies.
She waited until the others were caught up in their work and then sent out a mind link to Aurico. He opened his thoughts to her, keeping his curiosity quiet from the others.
"I think we should do a skill share with the others," she said over the link.
Aurico's surprise echoed along his thoughts. "I thought that was only allowed in emergencies."
"I think this qualifies," she sent back. "They need to know basic combat skills, incase we get separated."
"They will not have the muscle memory to be very effective," he sent. He slowed in the packing of the supplies.
"They do not need to be," Delphine sent, sending reassurance with it. "They merely need to be able to stall."
Aurico glanced at the others. "Yes, all right."
Jade sighed as the shuttle finished docking with the ship. She made her way back to the bridge, trying to ignore the squelching of her boots. She growled as she slapped the button to open the bridge door. "Ugh," said Jade. "This planet is like, one giant bathtub." She wrung out her braids. "I think we need to steal some of Divatox's pirate subs- what're you doing?" She walked up to Sun, who was staring intently at one of the radar screens.
"Watchin' one of the escape pods," said Sun. "It's seriously motoring towards the moon."
Jade blinked. "Do we know why?"
"Nope!" Sun said cheerfully. "I think we should send Kelzaks after it!"
Shrugging, Jade said, "Sure. We gotta start somewhere, right?"
Cestro kept glancing at his hands as they followed Corcus and Tideus through the forest. "Are you all right?" asked Delphine, waving over his aura.
"They do not warn us about how disconcerting it can be to be the receiver of a skill share," he said.
"I agree," Tideus said, eyes on his map. "I keep trying to flare gills that I do not have."
Aurico sent out a wave of amusement at that. "It will fade in a few minutes," he said. "You are all handling this much better than my first experience with a skill share."
It was Delphine who sent out amusement this time. "That was the time you felt two feet shorter than you truly were?" she asked.
"I ran into far too many shelves," said Aurico, sending out a small hint of resignation as the other three shared their amusement.
Tideus let out a yelp and stumbled forward. Cestro caught him by the belt, tugging him back from the crevice none of them had been expecting. Delphine leaned around Tideus to get a better look. The crevice was deep, 20 feet between the edges, heavily shadowed and the bottom, which was easily 60 feet below was littered with sharp rocks.
"How in the oceans are we going to cross this?" asked Corcus, gesturing at the length of it. Delphine looked both left and right, the crevice stretched on for miles.
"Perhaps we can swing across on some vines?" said Aurico, looking around for something suitable.
"I found one," said Corcus, tugging on a length of vine. He was cautiously eyeing its connection to the tree.
Tideus watched him, sending out nervousness. "What if we fall?"
"I could make a glider out of the tent from the emergency kit," said Cestro. "We could attach it to the vine so that we may cross one at a time."
Delphine projected approval. "Yes, that will work."
Within minutes, Cestro had the glider ready and he and Tideus attached it securely to the vine. It was a simple enough structure, the poles were the framework and the tarp was wrapped in such a fashion as it resembled the wings of the soaring sharks of the Eastern Oceans.
"I'll go first," said Aurico, grasping the handle of the glider. He ran towards the crevice and leapt. Delphine held her breath as he sailed across and landed on the opposite side. She sent out relief when he turned and sent the glider sailing back towards them.
The rest of them were able to cross without incident, though Delphine made sure to go last on the off chance that something attacked. But nothing did. Nor did anything attack them as they continued their trek on the opposite side of the crevice. As happy as she was that nothing was attacking the five of them, she was starting to wonder if Tideus' map was incorrect. Or perhaps the legendary Ninjor had long ago awarded the powers to another and they would encounter nothing but an empty cave.
"There," said Tideus, pointing at a particularly gnarled tree. "It should be just beyond this tree." He sped up, the rest of them also picking up their pace.
Past the tree was a clearing, surrounded on three sides by trees and on the fourth was a cliff face. There was a shallow cave carved into the cliff face, with five stone pillars. Each pillar had a gold coin set into its front.
"This feels too easy," said Delphine, stepping in front of the others.
"I agree," Aurico said. "I- did you hear that?" He turned towards the forest on the left.
Now that Delphine was listening for it, she could hear it too. It sounded like a fight. She glanced around the clearing quickly, trying to see if there was anything that would jump out at them. Seeing nothing obvious, she began to slowly creep towards the sounds of battle.
Peering through the dense brush, she spotted about ten strange patchwork biped people attacking someone wrapped up in heavy layers of cloth.
"Should we help?" whispered Aurico.
"We could take the coins," said Corcus.
"No," said Delphine. "We shall help, but we do not know enough about the coins to know if they would help or harm us. Aurico and I shall attack, the three of you stay back. Try to use the forest to your advantage."
The others bowed in agreement and Delphine slowly eased her way into the battle's smaller clearing. Aurico came up beside her and they dropped into a fighting stance.
"Ten against one is hardly fair," said Delphine loudly, catching the attention of everyone in the clearing.
The strange patchwork people turned and chitter/shrieked at her and Aurico. Delphine had time to take in the strange patterned masks they had instead of faces right before they charged. She kicked the lead one in the chest, driving it back. She blocked a punch from a second one and spun, elbowing it in the stomach.
A third one charged at her, driving her back into a tree. A large rock smashed into it's face. She spotted Corcus vanishing from sight and sent a quick wave of approval at him before launching back into the fight.
She managed to knock out another patchwork person by kicking it into one that Aurico was fighting. Then she spotted two coming up behind him. Before she could warn him, a large log came swinging into the clearing, smashing into both of the patchwork people and throwing them to the ground. She heard Cestro and Tideus cheer.
There was a loud crackling sound and ten more patchwork people appeared. Delphine set her shoulders in determination. "You can keep coming," she said. "We will not give up."
"I think I've heard and seen enough," said the strange cloth person. He grabbed a corner of his clothing and whipped the entire outfit off, revealing a strange creature dressed in blue armour. "Now, I, the great Ninjor, shall put an end to this fight. I have things to do!" He unsheathed his sword and attacked the patchwork people at a speed Delphine couldn't even follow. He was a blue streak of wind that whipped through the patchwork people, knocking all of them down and unconscious.
There was a pause and then all the patchwork people vanished with a crackling sound. Ninjor sheathed its sword. "Now then," he said, turning to Delphine and Aurico. "I have a feeling that you are here for a reason."
Delphine glanced at Aurico, then glanced behind herself to gesture for the others to come out. As they made their way out, she turned back to Ninjor. "We have come for help," she said. "Our planet is under attack."
Ninjor crossed his arms. "Ah, is it weapons you seek?"
"We simply wish to defend our planet," said Delphine, taking a step forward so she was more in front of the others. "If you have a great shield we could use, or even know of others we could call on for help, that would be enough. Our planet is very isolated."
Ninjor didn't more or respond for a moment and then he nodded. "Follow me." He strode off towards the clearing with the coins.
The others looked at her uncertainly and she sent them reassurance as she followed Ninjor. He walked right up to the columns and hesitated, scratching at his helmet while he muttered to himself. "I can never remember where the button is," he said. "Next time, I'm going for caves and illusion walls. Ah! There!" He prodded at a piece of rock and the whole wall swung to the side, revealing a dark cave opening. He strode in.
Delphine and the others hesitated at the cave opening. "Well, come on!" shouted Ninjor from inside. "We have a planet to save! I can't make you Power Rangers from out there!"
"Power what?" said Tideus. He was clutching his map again.
Delphine took a deep breath. "Come on," she said and stepped inside.
The cave's tunnel led them into a wide room. Delphine couldn't see the walls or the ceiling beyond what a circle of torches was lighting up. A layer of mist rolled across the ground. Ninjor was standing at a table, fiddling with a large vase. He turned as they all filed in. "Come on, come on. Form a circle."
They followed Ninjor's directions, the others taking their cues from Delphine. There was a flash of light and suddenly Ninjor was holding five gold coins. "These are power coins. With them you can transform into Power Rangers; warriors of great spirit and courage who stand for all that is good in the universe."
He took Delphine's hand and placed a coin into it. "Delphine, you lead with great wisdom. You shall be the White Ranger." He moved to Aurico. "Aurico, you are fearless. You shall be the Red Ranger." He placed the coin in Aurico's hand and moved to Corcus. "Corcus, strong and steady, you will be the Black Ranger." Giving Corcus his coin, he moved to Cestro. "Cestro, with your intelligence, you are to be the Blue Ranger." After giving Cestro his coin, he moved to Tideus. "And finally, Tideus, your hope and spirit shine through. You shall be the Yellow Ranger."
Ninjor took a step back and looked at all of them. "You have all proven yourselves on this journey and now, together, you shall be the Mighty Morphing Power Rangers of Aquitar!"
Delphine felt a jolt of energy flow from her coin through her body and she gasped. There was a flash of light and when it faded, the rest of the group were clad in tight, coloured suits with helmets. She glanced down and saw her own hands in white gloves, taking in her own suit. "Oh," she gasped.
Ninjor clapped his hands together. "Now, let's get your Battle Bots and go save your planet."
"What's a Battle Bot?" asked Aurico.
Alarms were blaring in time with the emergency lights. Jade flailed out of bed. "Noise!" she shouted, stumbling towards the door. She grunted as she ran into a wall before stumbling out into the hall. "Why is there noise?" She grabbed a Bacti that was running by. She shook it and slammed its back into the corridor wall. "Why is there noise?!" she roared.
The Bacti blubbed at her hurriedly while trying to squirm away.
"We're under attack from Ninjor and a Ranger team!" Jade shrieked. "Which team?"
The Bacti blubbed again, holding it's hands up to protect its face.
"How in the stars can't you know?" she said with a snarl. "They're not some weird fruit that grows on trees." She dropped the Bacti and stormed towards the bridge, slapping door censors open as she went.
She strode on to the bridge. "What is going on!" she said, glaring around the bridge.
Sun was sitting in the captain's chair, looking furious. "We're under attack, genius," she snapped.
"So, send out a general!" Jade waved an impatient hand at her as she stalked up to one of the information stations. She shoved the Bacti out of its chair and started tapping buttons. "We've lost almost the entire planet?"
"We don't have any generals, moron," Sun snapped back. She pointed at the main screen, where Ninjor was flying around, blowing up shuttles. "And will someone please shoot that already?" The Bacti at the weapons stations blubbered helpless while stabbing the firing buttons.
"What do you mean, we have no generals?" Jade said, turning to glare at her sister.
Sun rolled her eyes and said, in a bad imitation of Jade's voice, "No real off planet contacts, no Rangers, pathetic weapons. Let's just take the Bacti, sis, it'll be good to give them some work out time!"
"I don't sound like that! Shut up!"
"You're right. You sound so much more annoying!"
Jade's reply cut off when the ship shuddered with an explosion.
"And now the ageless super warrior for good is firing at us," said Sun dryly. "Best day ever."
Jade growled. "Fine. Call the retreat!"
"They are retreating!" said Cestro. Delphine's relief and joy meshed into the rest of the team's. "It is over!"
Aquitians were starting to filter cautiously into the battlefield. There was some waves of mild surprise and annoyance as one of them started pushing through the crowd to get to the front. Cestria suddenly stepped out, waves of happiness coming off her.
"Sister!" cried Corcus, his relief echoing that of the rest of the team.
"Power down," said Delphine. Their suits vanished in a flash of light, causing a surprised murmur from the crowd.
"I knew you could do it," Cestria said, running up to them. She touched foreheads gently with her brother before facing the rest of them. "You must tell me everything."
"Mom is gonna be pissed," said Sun in a sing song voice.
Jade growled. "Shut up."
"She's gonna start going on about the accomplishments Divatox's mom tells her that Divatox does."
"She'll make us a play date with Trakeena again-"
"If you have an idea to salvage this, either tell me or shut up!" Jade spun and glared at Sun.
Sun smirked. "Hydro Hog's looking for work." She sat back looking smug.
"That's actually not a bad idea," said Jade with a grin. "Fine, go call him."
Delphine adjusted the new leadership sash on her new protector uniform. Aurico sent amusement at her while adjusting the belt on his own uniform. Corcus was trying to fix Cestro's shirt, but Cestro wouldn't stop fiddling with his latest invention.
"I don't see why I get a protector uniform," said Cestria as she came into the room, Tideus following her.
"You are a part of us," said Tideus. "We would not be Rangers if it was not for you."
"Besides," said Delphine. "Ninjor said it was vital for every Ranger team to have a support system. You are our support."
Cestro's new attack alarm started flashing. They all looked up in surprise. Cestro and Cestria jogged over to the scanners and started tapping buttons. "This is not a false alarm. We are under attack," said Cestro.
Delphine looked at her team with determination. "Very well then. It's Morphing Time!"