In a darkened room, the two voices present were speaking softly to one another.
"He'll never forgive me for this..." His tone was sad, worried and slightly despairing.
"He's stronger than you think, Commander, he will forgive you. He will understand." The tall figure sighed softly, running a hand over his hair.
"Sir, we're getting married next month, does it have to be now? And done this way?"
"It's the only way to be sure. I can't trust anyone else at headquarters, Commander, and by doing it this way, the persona you will be taking on will be above reproach with these people, it is one of the ones that we have concrete evidence of the anti-human sentiment. Kat and I have been working on it for over seven months now, ever since I discovered the discrepancies in the files and the staff." The Supreme Commander leaned forward slightly again. “I know this will be difficult, and I understand your reluctance. But there is a faction within the Command Staff and Command Personnel here at Headquarters that have a large anti-human and anti-Earth following and bias and it’s growing, so to answer your earlier question, yes, it has to be now. We need to find it and stop it before more good, honest and decent SPD officers are killed or maimed because of this bigotry, we’ve had seven instances just this month alone. We just have to get solid evidence, not just the circumstantial we have at the moment.”
Silence stretched out for a long time and finally the tall figure nodded, acquiescing like he knew he was going to from the outset as soon as he heard the request.
"He's going to blame himself, you know, and then you, then everyone else, then back to himself again. You'll have to make sure to keep an eye on him. He'll go to a dark place in himself, and I don't want that." The shadowy figure nodded in agreement.
"I'll make sure that Sydney and Elizabeth watch him, and I will as well. You have my word on that." The tall figure sighed again, shaking his head slightly as he slowly spoke again.
“And what about our mental connection, sir? We both can sense each other in our minds, we have been since we got together as a couple.”
“I have thought of that, especially when you announced that you were going to get married, and at the time of the shuttle explosion, the Kerovian Silver Ranger will close that mental connection off for the time being and then will aide in the capture of the person you will be taking the place of.”
“I don’t think I like that, sir. I don’t like my mind being messed with unless it’s him.”
“He assures me that it can be activated again, it’ll just be suppressed for a while, it won’t cause any damage.” The figure gave a soft sigh. “I know it will be difficult, but it is the only way to stop this faction from attempting to take over Earth and destroy the relationship it has built up with the rest of the universe. We must protect Earth and the reputation of SPD. And to do it, we have to take this drastic action.”
The silence stretched out again, this time heavier, thicker, almost claustrophobic in nature until finally the tall figure spoke again.
"You better keep your word, sir. Because if something happens to him whilst I’m doing this mission, then nothing will stop me from making sure that I move hell and highwater to make sure he’s safe and if that includes coming after you, then I will do it.”
“I would expect nothing less, Commander.”
“Good. Alright, let’s get down to this business of killing me and putting me in the place of this traitor. And sir, I mean it, he suffers, you suffer.”
Bridge was sitting at Sky’s desk in the Command Centre, going over the daily reports and making sure everything was running smoothly while Sky was at Headquarters for some meeting or other that he had been ordered to attend. Bridge had wanted to go with him, but Sky had said to stay behind, someone had to keep an eye on the place and as Red Ranger, he was the natural next in command for SPD on Earth.
Syd and Z were off on patrol and the new Green and Yellow Rangers - Bridge had finally convinced Z to take the Blue Rangers position as his second in command - were going over Cadet evaluations and talking quietly in the corner. Bridge had tried to get Syd to take the second in command position but she had declined, saying that she was happy with her position and she didn’t want the responsibility that it would include. Bridge signed off on the last of the reports and looked up at the other two Rangers; Grace and Airian. They were getting on well and were working well together.
“Sir, incoming signal from the Commander’s shuttle. They are on course and due to land in thirty minutes.”
Bridge couldn’t help the wide smile that appeared on his face. They had been getting ready for their wedding next month. They had planned a small ceremony in the park where they had first kissed and gotten together, with just their families, the Rangers, Jack and Ally and the Supreme Commander and his wife, and Kat Manx. They had then planned a small getaway to an island off the coast of Australia for a week, then returning to get back to work. Bridge couldn’t wait to marry the love of his life, and knew that Sky felt the same.
“Thank you. I’ll go down and meet them as they come...”
“Sir... hang on...sir,” The technician went still, his hand going to his headphone quickly. “Um, sir, the pilot has just declared an emergency!” Bridge quickly shot to his feet and was at the technicians’ side straight away.
“What’s the problem?” The technician frowned. “Put it on speaker!”
“... an emergency. Our engines are going out of control!” Bridge quickly moved to his side and began running scans of the shuttle at the same time.
“Earth Control here, have you tried resetting the engines?” Bridge’s voice was tense as he tried to figure out what was going on. Unseen behind him, the Green and Yellow Rangers had heard what was going on and moving off to one side, Grace had gotten her communicator out and was calling Syd and Z to let them know what was going on. They were due back soon, so hopefully they weren’t too far away, Ranger Carson would need them soon.
“Tried everything... engines are overheating... controls are frozen...” Suddenly Sky’s voice came over the radio, he sounded tense and focussed.
“Engines are unresponsive, controls are locked out and reaching critical levels. Attempting to manually eject the engines.”
“Sky, get to the escape pod, now!” The next words would come to haunt Bridge forever.
“No time, engines going. Bridge... I’m sorry... Bridge.. I lo...” Whatever he was trying to say was lost as suddenly the shuttle exploded on the screen and Bridge clutched at his head, suddenly feeling an absence in his mind where Sky usually was. He fell to his knees, his eyes not leaving the screen where debris was raining down from the sky. A huge fireball was slowly dissipating and Bridge’s face was lifeless as his eyes never left the screen.
“Sky... oh god no.. Sky...” Bridge never registered Grace and Airian coming up behind him, putting their hands on his shoulder, trying to comfort him. His eyes never left the screen as he felt his heart break into a million pieces.
Debris rained down from the explosion in the sky and the silence in the command room was deafening. It was only broken by the doors opening and Syd and Z came running in. They had actually just returned to headquarters when Grace had called them. They looked at the screen and both went pale, knowing instinctively what had happened. Z looked at Bridge, she could see that he was completely unresponsive right now and that as his second, everything was now up to her. Swallowing hard she glanced at Syd, who nodded and went and knelt down by Bridge’s side. Z gestured for the other two to join her, which they did.
Speaking softly to them, Z quickly issued orders.
“Take B2, C, D squads and every spare second and third year cadet with you. I want every single piece of that debris collected, no matter how small, you got it?”
“Yes ma’am.” Z concentrated a second and one of her duplicates appeared.
“I’ll come with you, in case there’s any problems. Let’s move it.” The two Rangers, plus Z’s duplicate, headed out and Z gestured for the technician to come to her side. She didn’t want to get in Bridge’s way for the moment.
“What happened?” The technician sighed and glanced at Bridge before speaking.
“They were coming in normally in atmospheric re-entry, then the pilot suddenly declared an emergency. Engine problems. We both kept running scans to try and find the problem, and then...” he gulped.
“Go on.” Z’s voice was gentle, she hated to think what happened next, but someone had to be in control.
“The Commander came on, there wasn’t time to get to the escape pod. He said... he said...he said to Ranger Carson, he was sorry. Then the shuttle exploded.” Z nodded and squeezed his shoulder for a moment.
“Thank you. Okay, send copies to my station and then why don’t you go take a small break, send a replacement for a bit, okay?” The tech shook his head.
“I’ll be okay, ma’am. I want to know what happened. I’ll stay.”
“Good man. Get to work.” He nodded and moved away to get to work. Taking a deep breath, Z moved over to kneel down to the other side of Bridge, looking at Syd as she did. Syd spoke softly.
“He’s not responding.” Z sighed as she reached out and gently took Bridge’s hands off his head. He slowly moved his head and looked at her, and Z’s heart broke. His eyes looked dead of all emotion and his face was pale.
“Bridge, are you with me right now?” Syd still had her arm wrapped around his shoulder and he turned from looking at Z to see her sitting beside him. He then looked back at Z and finally spoke.
“I can’t feel him anymore, Z. He’s not in my mind anymore.” Syd gave a soft gasp and tears welled up in her eyes. But right now, both the girls were focussed on Bridge, they had to be strong for him.
"Oh Bridge.” Suddenly he collapsed against Syd as the reality of what had happened crashed down onto him. Sobs began to wrack his body as it truly hit home that Sky was gone. Z concentrated a moment and another duplicate appeared and headed straight out the door towards medical. If Bridge got himself too worked up, he would overwork his psychic centres and spiral into a mental collapse and could damage himself badly.
Sydney wrapped her arms around him, her tears falling as well. The three of them had been together for so long, they were family. Z tried to hold her tears in as well, but wasn’t having much luck. She swallowed hard and spoke softly.
“Syd, I’ve got medical coming to help him. I’ve got to tell Headquarters...” Syd nodded, she understood.
“I’ll take care of Bridge, you take care of things here, okay? Then we’ll...we’ll..” She couldn’t say the next words but Z knew what she meant.
“I know.” Just then the doors opened and her duplicate plus the doctor came in. The duplicate went back into Z as the doctor knelt next to the sobbing Bridge, Kat not far behind, her face ashen and pale as well. .
“It’s okay, Ranger Carson, I’m just going to give you something to help you calm down.” Syd just held him in her arms as the doctor injected him and Bridge’s heart-tearing sobs slowly stopped as he fell loosely into Syd’s arms. He looked at Syd. “Let’s get him to his quarters.” Z duplicated a couple of herself and picked up Bridge, Syd standing as well, wiping her eyes.
“I’ll get him settled and then come back.” Z nodded and looked at Kat.
“I’ll leave one of these guys with him, just to watch him, okay?” Syd nodded and the four of them moved out of the command centre, Kat pausing for a moment and then giving Z a nod, left, following Syd and Bridge. Once they were gone Z leaned against the centre console for a moment, wiping at her eyes. She just needed a moment. Taking a deep breath she straightened up and turned to the communications technician.
“Get me Supreme Commander Cruger at Headquarters, please.”
“Yes Ranger Delgado.” Z straightened herself up, this was not going to be easy.
Meanwhile, at Kat Manx’s office in the Delta Base at the time of the explosion, the Kerovian Ranger removed his hands from Sky’s temples, his voice soft as he finished his work.
“It’s done. It’s only suppressed, so as soon as this mission is done, Ranger Carson will be able to reinstate the link you both have.” The Ranger put his hand on Sky’s shoulder, but the former Red Ranger didn’t even seem to notice it. The moment Sky got off the audio communicator set up in Kat’s office, where he had to stage his death in real time to the man he loved, he had plopped into her desk chair and simply stared at the floor. The misery on his face nearly broke Kat Manx’s heart. The Silver Ranger moved off to one side to wait for Kat to begin her part of the procedure.
She let out a deep breath while she arranged her surgical instruments onto a tray. Although she was not an empath, her feline instincts were nevertheless more honed to human emotions than she let on, and the sorrow and distress currently coming off her patient was not something she ever wanted to feel from him again. Not for the first time, or even the fifth, she wished that there were any other way to fulfill this mission. She approached Sky with her surgical tray.
“This won’t take long, and it won’t hurt, either.” Sky never moved while she numbed a small area behind his right ear, then made a quick laser incision, slipped a small circular device into the cut, then reversed the laser beam to knit the skin back together. The whole operation took less than five minutes. “All right, the image inducer is in place,” she said. “To turn it on and off, all you need to do is tap it.” She nudged Sky. “Try it.”
Sky reached behind his ear and at his tap, his features changed: the shape of his face became more angular, more prominent cheekbones emerged, his nose widened slightly and his eyes changed to a dark-pupiled almond shape. In the space of about three seconds, Sky Tate had effectively disappeared. Kat sighed as she approached him once more, now with a blue gem in her hand, the characteristic mark of the Xybrian species.
“I know it’s going to be hard on you Sky, but it’ll be worth it. I hope.” Sky nodded, deliberately not looking at the feed from the Command Centre coming from her computer monitor.
“So do I. Let’s get this done.” The voice coming out of his mouth wasn’t his. He cast a surprised glance at Kat.
“The image inducer has a built-in voice converter as well,” the scientist explained. “Fortunately, I found a video file of your Xybrian doppelganger from when he gave a speech at a cadet recruitment event last year. I modified the converter to his voice and speech pattern.”
She began to affix the gem to Sky’s forehead. “This not only will show your biosigns as Xybrian, but it will also act as an audio and visual recorder that you can control with this wristband; that way it can get all the evidence we need.” She handed him a silver bracelet and watched him slip it onto his wrist before she finished her work and looked at him, then went over to the desk and got a blue wig. “I thought you’d approve of this colour.” Sky managed a wan smile, trying not to notice the missing piece in his mind where Bridge’s presence normally sat. She then began adjusting it to fit on his head and within moments his physical transformation was completed.
Kat picked up a datapad from her desk and handed it to Sky. “These are the details of your mission. Our main suspect is a high-ranking SPD officer named Laver Tarns. Commander Cruger will be offering him the command position of SPD Earth Headquarters within the next twenty-four hours and there is no doubt that Tarns will accept the commission.
“Zhane’s ship is scheduled to leave for SPD Galactic Headquarters within the hour and you will travel with him. Once you’re at headquarters, you will immediately seek out your double over there. His name is Lieutenant Venda, and he is one of Commander Tarns’ closest aides. It is imperative that Zhane and you arrest him unnoticed and place him in a containment card, so that Zhane can transport him off base and you can assume his place right away. This datapad also holds all the information we could find about Venda, so make sure you read it along the way, so that you can play your part right.”
“I will.” Sky reached for the travel bag next to his chair and placed the datapad inside. He was about to zip up the bag when he suddenly remembered one last crucial detail.
“I guess that leaves only this to take care of.” He withdrew a black rectangle from the bag and handed it to Kat, who took it from him almost reverently.
The Shadow morpher. Doggie Cruger had been the first one to use it to transform into the SPD Shadow Ranger and had become an invaluable part of the team. Upon Sky’s promotion to Base Commander, Cruger had passed the morpher on to him, and Sky had vowed to do the Shadow Ranger’s legacy justice.
“I’ll keep it safe here, Sky,” Kat promised. “And I’ll make sure it won’t fall into the wrong hands.” She then reached out and uncharacteristically put her hand on his cheek. “Everything will be okay, Sky, we’ll make sure of it.”
Sky nodded, swallowing hard. “I hope so.” Just then, the outer door opened and Z ran in, looking for Kat or any doctor. He nodded at her. “Go, look after him for me, please.” Kat nodded and giving him one last glance, headed out to support the doctor on duty. Sky gathered his things and left with Zhane via a side entrance. Not once did he look at the monitors to see the love of his life suffering. They were both doing enough suffering for each other.