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Shattered Souls

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Prologue

 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.

 

TBC…

Chapter Text

The grounds surrounding the SPD Academy were comprised of tens of acres of sprawling woodland and open areas used mainly for cadet training of all kinds. But tucked into a corner of it was a smaller, park-like area almost out of sight to anyone who didn’t know it was there. That area was the last home to SPD’s fallen heroes; the Delta Patrol Cemetery. Surrounded by a wrought-iron fence, the cemetery was accessible by crossing a small decorative bridge which spanned over a narrow, burbling creek.

 Syd found him there; Gloved hands folded and forearms leaning on the bridge’s wooden railing, he looked out onto the water below with such a forlorn look in his eyes that the Pink Ranger’s heart hurt for him all over again. She silently stood next to him, and for a few moments they simply watched the water whorls form, spin, and dissolve in never-ending repetitions.

 “It wasn’t love at first sight between us, you know,” Bridge said when he finally looked up. Syd nodded and followed his gaze towards the cemetery. “But when it did turn into love, I just knew that it was going to be love for life.”

 Syd put a hand between his shoulder blades and began to rub the spot soothingly. “It is,” she said. “Because you’re going to love him for the rest of your days.”

 Bridge simply nodded before he hung his head and gripped the railing with both hands. He radiated exhaustion and grief. The last few days had been hell on all of them, but worse for Bridge. Syd had no idea when was the last time he slept without the help of medication. Yesterday’s service had been especially tough on him.

 The funeral had been mostly ceremonial. Due to the harsh circumstances of Sky’s death, there had been no body to bury, so the funeral congregation had gathered around the Wall of Heroes, where Supreme Commander Doggie Cruger hung a plaque depicting Sky’s name, rank, service and death dates as well as a beautifully written epitaph listing Sky’s many accomplishments as a Ranger and Commander.

 The commemoration had been a solemn and dignified event. Most of the base cadets had shown up, crowding along the lawn outside the fence, but inside the cemetery there were only Bridge, Syd, Z, Jack and Ally, Grace and Airian, Kat, Boom (who had brought RIC along), Sky’s mom, Doggie Cruger and his wife as well as a few older Earth Rangers, who had come to pay their respects to one of their fallen fellow Rangers.

 Cruger – who was supposed to speak at their wedding reception – delivered a moving eulogy and Bridge had somehow made it through the service without breaking down or even crying, but the despair in his eyes would stay lodged in Syd’s memory forever.  

The same look was still in his eyes now as he turned to face her.

 “Why did he do this to me, Syd? I thought he loved me, I thought we were getting married... so why did he do that...” The rest of the sentence was cut off by a heart-wrenching sob that seemed to come all the way from Bridge’s core. Syd pulled him into a tight hug and held him silently. She knew he didn’t need a verbal reply; neither was he actually mad at Sky. He was simply pouring out his pain to her at the injustice of it all.

 Syd squeezed her eyes shut and held her friend while he clutched at her and his tears were soaking her shoulder. Together they stood on the wooden bridge while all around them birds were singing, the sun was blazing down on them and life was going on.

 

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

 

Headquarters waited a full week before notifying them that they were sending a replacement Commander for Earth Headquarters. He would be arriving with five aides in the next two days to take over from the temporary command situation that they were in at the moment. Bridge had, for the last two days at least, finally come out of his room and had been going over what decisions Z had been making and approving all of them. But he was a pale shade of himself, the shadows in his eyes were dark, deep and full of pain. The dark circles around his eyes showed the little sleep that he had and he was barely eating.

 Syd had been watching him constantly, making him eat when she could, but she wasn’t having a lot of success. He was losing weight he couldn’t afford to lose and his clothes were beginning to hang on him. The funeral and the last week of mourning had taken its toll on all of them, but Bridge especially. Each of them were grieving in their own ways, but Z and Syd were completely focussed on making sure that Bridge was okay.

 Bridge took the news that a replacement was coming for Sky with the same indifference he had been showing since the funeral. It was like he had lost his soul, his heart and his will to live. It was like he was just going through the motions of just existing. Privately, Z and Sydney had decided that it was only his sense of duty as Red Ranger that kept him going. Supreme Commander Cruger had contacted Z privately and advised her that the new Commander was already planning to make major changes, wording her up so that she could keep Bridge out of his way for the first few weeks apart from what was necessary.

 So on the day of his arrival, things were already edgy and the atmosphere was a combination of tension and anticipation. The squad was waiting at the front entrance, Grace and Airian were bouncing with excitement and eagerness of the young. Sydney and Z were standing on either side of Bridge, silently giving him all the support that they could whilst carrying out their duties as well. It wasn’t easy, but they were all coping in their different ways.

 A motorcade pulled up and from the front car several people got out, all of them aliens, which surprised Z and Sydney a bit, as most Commanders had a mix of staff - human and alien - but this new one had all aliens. There were two Debonians, two Praxians and a Xybrian - complete with bright blue hair and blue gem. Exchanging glances with Syd, Z just kept her composure and giving Bridge a gentle nudge for him to step forward, moved with him as the door opened and the new Commander stepped out of the car.

 He was tall and well-muscled and very obviously a Tangarian. This caused Z some immediate concern, as they all recalled what happened when they last encountered a Tangarian.(*)

But they had to give him the benefit of doubt and see what he was like. The Commander walked forward, staring hard at them and then stopping in front of Bridge with a small frown. Z quickly nudged Bridge again, he came to and suddenly gave a salute.

 “Sir, welcome to Earth SPD Headquarters. I’m Ranger Carson, Red Ranger and leader of B-Squad.” The Tangarian returned the salute and nodded.

 “Thank you, Ranger Carson. I’m Commander Laver Tarns. I hereby take formal command of this base from your temporary status.” He frowned slightly. “I am sorry for your recent loss, but we have work to do. Let’s go.” He strode forward, his aides falling into step behind him and Syd gave him an incredulous look as he went past but said nothing. She watched as they all strode past and then fell into step with Z. She held her tongue though, they had to, for Bridge’s sake if nothing else. Z suddenly squeezed her hand and Sydney knew exactly that she was thinking the same thing. This guy was going to take some getting used to.

 (*) See SPD episode 9 “Idol"

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

 

It fell to Z to show the new commander and his entourage around the Delta Base, since Bridge had clammed up due to an overload on his emotions. The tour ended in the command center, where he was introduced to Dr. Kat Manx, who handed the command codes over to him as well as the SPD manual for Earth. When she tried to familiarize him with daily base procedures and command duties, however, the Tangarian’s attention quickly faded.

 “We’ll get to all this tomorrow. Right now I am ready to retire to my lodgings until dinnertime,” Tarns announced. He turned to Z. “Will you show me to my quarters, please, Ranger…”

 “Delgado, Sir. Right this way.” The new commander gestured for the other aides to go about their pre-assigned duties and they moved off with their own purpose. Tarns then motioned for Sky to bring along his luggage, which had been stored in the command center for the time being, and Z led them to the executive guest quarters. However, as soon as the commander walked into the spacious and comfortable accommodations, he rounded on Z.

 “Why am I being housed in the guest quarters?” he demanded to know. “The Commander’s Quarters should have been ready for my arrival, what’s the holdup?” If Z was taken aback at the Tangarian’s outburst, she didn’t show it.

 “Sir, as you know, Commander Tate and Ranger Carson were life partners, and on this account they resided in the Commander’s Quarters together,” she explained. “His sudden…demise has left Delta Base in a state of chaos that we are still working on straightening out, and there has simply been no time…”

 “So let me get this straight,” Tarns cut her off. “You are telling me that the Red Ranger is occupying my rooms?” The disdain in his tone was easy to hear and Z held her temper with an effort.

 “Sir, Commander Tate’s death has been very hard on Ranger Carson, and he has not been in the mental frame of mind to vacate the Commander’s Quarters yet. He needs a little more time.”

 “Well, as the commander of this base, I am not in the mental frame of mind to settle for guest quarters, Blue Ranger,” Tarns exclaimed. “I’m sure that the Red Ranger can find a room somewhere in Delta Base’s dormitory wing.” He stepped closer to Z, leaned in and growled at her: “Get him out!”

 Sky had to give Z credit for the way she managed to keep her face schooled in a neutral expression. He knew his friend well enough to read her body language, however, and the stiff way she stood at attention and the balled fists behind her back told him just how angry she was. A few seconds passed until she ground out the required “Yes, sir,” reply. “I will notify you when it’s done.”

 “Dismissed.”

 Laver Tarns stared after Z’s retreating form until the doors had swished shut behind her. Then he took in his surroundings once more with a face like thunder.

“Can you believe this?” he barked at Sky. “Stuck in the guest quarters like some visiting tourist.” He slammed his fist down onto the sturdy dining table next to him with such force that the sound reverberated throughout the entire room. “The lack of respect these humans have for the chain of command is appalling! That’ll be one of the first things I’m going to change around here!”

He leveled his furious gaze at Sky, clearly looking for confirmation. The urge to put his fist between Tarn’s eyes was like a force of nature, but instead Sky put on what he hoped was a concurring expression and nodded.

 “Appalling indeed, sir.” Sky - in his guise as Venda, the Xybrian - answered as expected. He looked at the Commander. “I shall wait to unpack for you then, sir. Do you need anything else at the moment, sir?” Tarns shook his head and reached into a pocket, getting out a small flask. He took a swig of it and then growled.

 “Stupid humans. Once I’m settled in my quarters, I want you to see about getting me some supplies. I’ll send you a list. But in the meantime, I don’t trust that Blue Ranger, make sure that the Red Ranger is out of my quarters within the hour, you understand?” Sky felt his heart clench but nodded.

 “Yes, sir.” Sky moved to the door and was stopped by Tarns.

 “And Venda,”

 “Sir?” Tarns smile had a touch of malice about it and Sky was immediately on guard.

 “Don’t be gentle. It’s time these humans learned who really is in charge in this galaxy.”

 “Yes, sir.” In character, Sky returned the malicious smile while promising himself that once this was over, he was going to punch Tarns teeth out. Leaving him to his booze and heading out, Sky was determined to get the evidence he needed quickly and then get the hell out of this disguise.

 

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

 

Sky stared at the closed double doors of the Commander’s Quarters. He didn’t want to do this.

 He remembered the time when Cruger had him clean all the cement areas outside the base entrance with a toothbrush after the fiasco with Dru, and right now he would gladly repeat that if it got him out of this chore.

 He didn’t want to be here. Anywhere but here. But to keep up his cover he needed to follow Tarns’ orders, so… Sky swallowed heavily, reached for the doorbell buzzer, then thought better of it and just walked through the doors unannounced. From the foyer he could see several Z’s moving around, packing things into SPD-issue plastic crates while the real Z was standing with Bridge and Syd by the living-room sideboard, looking at a framed picture he was holding. It was one of Sky’s favorite pictures; Boom took it several years ago when Jack was still Red Ranger. It showed the five of them with their arms around each other, smiling at the camera, so glad to be back from SWAT training.

 Better times.

 Grace and Airian were moving in and out of the kitchenette and bedroom, packing up his and Bridge’s possessions, and Sky’s stomach lurched painfully at seeing their home being dismantled.

 Z looked up and her brows furrowed at the sight of him. “Lieutenant Venda. Can we help you with anything?” Her tone was neutral, but her demeanor all but screamed what the hell are you doing here?

 Sky had never felt so intrusive and unwelcome in his life.

 “Actually, I am here to help you,” he replied, hoping it sounded snidely enough. “You obviously need another hand, since this is not moving fast enough.” He emphasized ‘this’ with an all-around sweep of his hand. Z narrowed her eyes at him and Sky didn’t need empathic powers to know she was ready to eat him alive. Bridge, however, barely glanced at him.

 Sky tried not to stare at the love of his life. This was the first time Sky had a good look at Bridge since his arrival at the base. Bridge looked a shadow of his former self. The black circles under his eyes were deep and his face was gaunt. His uniform was starting to hang off him and he could tell that he had lost weight that he could ill afford to lose. Sky felt his heart and soul shatter into a thousand pieces once more.

 “Thanks, but we got this,” the Blue Ranger said and turned away from him in apparent dismissal.

 “Obviously not. These premises need to be vacated in the next thirty minutes. Commander Tarns expects to be able to move in within the hour,” Sky retorted and reached out for another one of the framed pictures on the sideboard to put it in a bin, only to have his wrist grabbed in a nearly bone-crushing grip by an iron hand. Literally.

 Syd tossed her curls back over her shoulder with a flick of her head as she looked up at Sky. “I think you heard my fellow Ranger,” she said. “We don’t need your help. We got this.”

 Syd barely reached his chin, but she stood her ground so resolutely that she seemed twice his height. He was immensely proud of her as he leveled a cold stare down at her that didn’t intimidate the Pink Ranger one bit.

 It was Bridge who broke the staring contest by putting a gloved hand on his blond friend’s shoulder. “We’ll be done by then,” he said quietly, and the resigned look he gave Sky wanted to make Sky claw out his own eyes. There was no sign of the Bridge he loved in those dead looking eyes.

 Syd let go of him, but with her eyes she all but yelled at him, don’t you dare touch anything in here!

 Sky couldn’t blame her one single bit. “Thirty minutes,” he repeated, made himself glare at Syd and Z for another few seconds, then turned on his heel and strode out.

 When he returned exactly thirty minutes later with the rest of Tarns’ entourage to back him up, he found the Commander’s Quarters vacant. The bleak sight of the empty walls and the few pieces of now impersonal standard-issue furniture pierced his heart like a jagged piece of glass. How could he ever make this up to Bridge?

 

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

 

After settling Tarns into his ‘new’ quarters, Sky had retired for the night as well, after making sure that Tarns was taken care of - in other words, had his nightly two bottles of booze. Having to stand over his friends as they packed up all his and Bridge’s things had taken its toll on Sky’s mental state. Seeing the man he loved forced to move out of the quarters that they had shared for so long was terrible. Having the girls there to keep an eye on Bridge seemed to help a little, but having to play the role of Venda, Sky had to keep in character at all times. Even if it was tearing his own soul apart. Yet he was so proud of the way Syd and Z had handled themselves, even Syd’s iron fist was so much of her protectiveness for her friends, his pride in how she handled ‘Venda’ was enormous, he would make sure that he told her that when this whole mess was done and dusted.

 Sky sat down on his bed, slowly taking off his jacket, trying to rationalise this whole situation in his mind even as he tried justify his actions to his heart. He knew that Bridge would, eventually, forgive him - he hoped, oh god he hoped so. The girls would as well, after making him pay for a while, which he was actually looking forward to. The girls could be very inventive with their paybacks. Yet it was Bridge that he was worried about, thinking about constantly, missing terribly. Why in god’s name he had agreed to this mission? He couldn’t understand right at this point in time now that he was immersed in it. Even though he intellectually knew why he did, the actual reality of this mission was harder than he had ever expected.

 Throwing his jacket over the back of the chair, he toed off his boots and then just flopped down on the bed, staring at the roof of the small room he had been assigned as one of Tarns ‘trusted’ assistants. He had been carefully and slowly gathering the evidence against Tarns and the others over the last week, but was having to be very careful about it, playing his part exactly as expected was starting to take its toll on him. Hopefully tomorrow he’d be able to slip to Kat the little information he had managed to gather so far. Tarns was being careful and paranoid, it was only the fact that Sky was taking the place of someone he already knew and trusted, that he had been able to get the little he had so far.

 Taking a deep breath, trying to still his mind over how it was churning over the hurt he was doing to the man he loved, Sky turned over to face the wall, trying to focus on the welds but they just reminded him of the time that Bridge had talked for over an hour how the welds in the plas-steel had been done when they constructed Delta Base and how it made the whole base a lot stronger. God, he missed Bridge so much.

 Groaning, he turned back around again, trying to settle but he couldn’t seem to settle not only his mind, but his body as well. This last week had been terrible trying to sleep without Bridge in the bed next to him. He had gotten used to being able to spoon with Bridge during the night, waking him from nightmares or exploring each other’s bodies in many intimate ways that they could do - for as long as Bridge’s powers could stand it. Sitting up, he got up and went into the small bathroom and got himself a drink of water. Standing there, looking at his reflection in the mirror, he didn’t see himself. All he saw was a Xybrian with blue hair, blue gem in the middle of his forehead and no features of himself whatsoever.

 Rinsing the glass, he left it on the sink, and went back into the quarters. To make sure he didn’t risk blowing his cover, he hadn’t been allowed to bring anything with him that would remind him of his real identity or his feelings for Bridge. That was what was tearing him apart, the fact that he was hurting Bridge so badly by accepting this mission. Yet this mission was essential. The fact that there were officers like Tarns in Space Patrol Delta was frightening, worrying and very bad for the service. Sky just hoped that one day, one day, he and Bridge would be able to put these terrible few weeks behind them.

 Groaning at his inability to sleep, Sky threw himself back onto the bed and began to try and meditate, not even bothering to get changed into his night clothes. This was not going to be a good night. And the next few weren’t going to be any better, now that he was this close to Bridge yet so far from the man he loved. Maybe tomorrow he could ask Kat for sleeping pills, as for the moment, he didn’t think he’d be getting any sleep anytime soon whilst he was on this assignment, being so close to Bridge yet not being able to go to him.

 

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

 

After settling Bridge into his old room, thankfully it was still empty, Z and Sydney retired to their room near his with his promise to call them if he needed them, gratefully locking the door behind them as they both collapsed onto their respective beds. Syd gave a soft groan and sat up slowly, rubbing the back of her neck to ease some of the tension that had appeared over the last hour or so.

 “This is not going to be a good move from High Command, Z. I don’t think this guy likes us at all.” Z sighed, sitting up as well, slowly undoing her jacket. Syd’s tone was thoughtful, but it had a hint of worry underlying it.

 “I don’t think he does either. Cruger called me and said this guy had some radical ideas, and to watch ourselves. He also said we had to keep an eye on Bridge. I think this is hitting him hard, too.” Syd had grabbed Peanuts and was cuddling him for some comfort. Even after all these years, she still occasionally needed some comfort of her childhood toy. Z’s tone was thoughtful as she relayed that bit to Syd.

 “Z, I don’t think he’s going to go easy on Bridge. Those guys he brought with him, they give me the creeps.” Z threw her jacket over the back of her chair and stood up, absently getting her things ready for bed as it was now quite late in the evening. Z nodded in agreement at Syd’s words.

 “I agree. We’ll just have to try and run interference as best as we can.” Syd nodded and spoke again after a few moments.

 “That second of his, the Xybrian, what was his name?” Z paused as she grabbed her night clothes.

 “Venda. Lt Venda.” Syd frowned at the guys’ name as Z gave it to her.

 “Something is definitely off with him. I just get a strange vibe off him. But it could just be the fact they have just got here and already making changes and that. Just wish Bridge didn’t have to cope with this on top of everything else.” Syd just nodded and sighed, burying her head in Peanuts to hide the tears in her eyes. Z saw this but didn’t say anything.

 “I’m going to shower, Syd. Back soon.” Z walked into the bathroom, closing the door behind her, and leaning against it, blinked back her own tears. But they had to be strong, for Bridge if nothing else. She just wished that Jack was around more easily than he was these days. She needed her adopted big brother more than anything at the moment. Taking a deep breath, she headed towards the shower; she had her own demons to wrestle with, just as Sydney did.

 

TBC…

Chapter Text

The next morning the tension in the command centre was palpable. Kat was standing next to the Commander’s desk, her ever-present computer pad in her hand, as the new commander went over what had happened over the last week, checking on decisions made and the like. His frown just kept getting deeper and deeper. Finally he just threw the last report back onto the desk. The three senior Rangers were standing in front of him, while the other two were out on patrol. He glared at them and then turned to Kat.

 “And these... these humans are who Cruger trusted this planet to?” Before Kat could say anything he continued. “No wonder Grumm almost conquered this place. I’m overturning several of these decisions,” he made some notes and handed a pad to Venda. “Make sure these people are released immediately. Deported but released, no charges.” Bridge opened his mouth but Tarns held up his hand to quiet him down while he continued to speak to his lieutenant. “Also, once that’s done, I want an audit of all current and ongoing investigations. I want you to make sure that they are all within the spirit of the law and if you have any that you think aren’t, bring them to my attention immediately. You know what to look for.”

 “Yes sir.” Venda took the list and nodded at him. Tarns then looked at Bridge.

 “And as for your Zord battle reports -” The Commander picked up a separate datapad and scowled first at the screen, then at the B-Squad members. “The property damages resulting from your inner-city battles and all of your missed shots are astronomical! Don’t you know any better than to engage an enemy that’s larger than a skyscraper within NewTech City’s city limits?” he tore into them. Bridge raised his hand.

 “Sir, just about all of the shots that go wide come from the monsters we fight,” he tried to explain. “We keep our shots centered and targeted on the enemy Zords.”

 “Do you now?” Tarns growled and leveled a malicious stare at the Red Ranger. “Or is this just what you want me to read?” Bridge blinked, speechless for a moment at the commander’s implication.

 “We do not falsify our reports!” Bridge’s tone of voice showed the first sign of life since the accident. Yet, even then, it was still subdued.

 “Well, I’m going to have my staff look into this nevertheless. But until this matter is cleared up…” The Tangarian took a few steps forward. “Red Ranger. You are hereby ordered to hand over the Delta Squad Megazord Control to Lt. Venda here. He and my other aides will now be piloting it as looking at these reports and your records, I can’t trust your team to pilot such a powerful piece of equipment. You will still keep your existing vehicles, but you won’t be doing any more in the Megazord until I can be assured you won’t do any further damage with it.” Bridge stared at him in amazement.

“Sir, our existing vehicles are all part of the Megazord, so if I hand the controls over, we have to hand those over as well. How will we do our jobs as Rangers if we can’t use our vehicles as they were intended to?” Bridge’s tone of voice was genuinely curious, he hadn’t picked up yet like Z and Syd had, that this guy didn’t think much of them. Tams puffed out his chest, towering over them all.

 “Are you questioning my orders, Red Ranger? Because I can easily order you to hand over your morphers as well. The only reason I am not at this stage is because until my team is up to speed on Earth locations, criminal activity and have learnt the area, you will be needed. For your back-chatting today, you’re suspended for three days, no pay. I don’t want to see your face for the next three days. Is that understood?” Bridge stared at him, shock on his face. Z went to open her mouth but was stopped by a tiny head shake from Kat, who was standing off to one side behind Tarns. Finally Bridge took a deep breath.

 “Aye sir. I will keep my morpher on me at all times, just in case. If that’s alright with you, sir?” Bridge’ tone had turned hard, as had his face.

 “That’s acceptable. Ranger Delvado, you’re in command of the squad until Ranger Carton returns, understood?” Z nodded, deliberately not correcting her superior officer on the mispronunciation of their names. It would only make the situation worse.

 “Understood sir.” Bridge saluted and turned on his heel, his face completely blank as he left the room. Once the door closed behind him, Tarns sat back down, shaking his head. He looked at Kat.

“That airhead is the Red Ranger? Cruger have a mental lapse or something?” Kat opened her mouth but Tarns shook his head. “Don’t answer. Venda, get on that list straight away.”

 “Sir.” Sky was literally seething with anger but kept it under control as he saluted. He wanted nothing more than to chase after Bridge but had to keep his cover up. Tarns turned to Syd and Z.

 “You two. Go supervise some first year cadets or patrol the city. I don’t want to see you either for the rest of the day. When the other two get back, they can join you. You may continue to use your Delta Cycles and the SPD Patrol Jeep. Dismissed.” The girls both saluted and left quickly. Once they were gone he shook his head and looked at Kat again. “How do you stand being around those idiots all the time, Doctor?” Kat swallowed her anger and spoke softly as she checked her paperwork.

“They have their uses, sir. If you are happy with my department, I shall get back to my work as well.” Tams nodded.

 “Understood. Oh, and before I forget: your assistant, that walking disaster area - Bam or something his name is,”

 “Boom, yes. He’s been with me for years and has contributed greatly with some of my work. Why do you ask sir?” Tarns snorted.

 “Get rid of him. He’s a liability according to all the reports I’ve read. No human can be that helpful, especially with some of the work I have for you to start.” Kat was stunned.

“Sir, I can’t do that, he’s been with me for years!” Tarns slowly turned to her and frowned, his expression hard.

 “You will do it. And you will do it today. I have Top Secret plans for you to enact and I don’t want any humans to work on it. Either you do it now, or I’ll get Sgt Nian and Sgt Kinkle to physically remove him myself.” Kat swallowed hard.

 “I will take care of it, sir.” She wasn’t sure what she was going to do, but she had to keep up the charade. “What plans do you speak of? I wasn’t aware of anything new coming from headquarters.” His smile turned slightly vicious and mysterious.

“Tomorrow, once the changes are made. Now, I have some more to take care of. Dismissed.” Kat nodded and turned to leave. “Doctor,”

 “Sir?” Kat turned, her pad held against her chest like she always did and the Commander frowned.

 “It’s customary to salute your superiors when you are dismissed.” Kat swallowed hard and then nodded.

 “Yes sir. Commander Tate didn’t require such formality, I’m sorry, I forgot.”

“I’m not Tate. In fact, the sooner you all realise that, the better.” Kat nodded and gave him a text-book salute, to which he nodded and she left. She made her way to her lab and closing the door to her office, she was hard-pressed to not slam the computer pad onto her desk. Under her breath she muttered quite a few swear words in her native language. This was going worse than both she and Cruger thought. Taking a deep breath, she messaged Boom to come and see her.

 

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

 

Once the Rangers and Dr. Manx had left the command center, Tarns let out a noisy breath, reached underneath the command desk and pulled out his flask. He took a big swig of the booze, then gestured towards Sky with the container. “Venda, I think it’s time for a strategy meeting. Go get the others.”

 “Yes, sir.”

 A little while later the two Debonians, Nian and Kinkle, the two Praxians, Tetcho and Albar, as well as Sky aka Venda, were assembled around Laver Tarns in the SPD Command Center. Tarns ordered all other SPD personnel out of the room and told Sky to lock the door before he turned to his subordinates.

 “All right, everyone. I know we’ve only been here a few days, but it looks as though we can speed up the timeframe of The Plan a bit.” Tarns proceeded to fill in the Debonians and Praxians on what had transpired between him and the Rangers a little while earlier. “I let them keep their morphers and their patrol vehicles, but as far as Megazord access - I’m going to have Dr. Manx transfer Zord access privileges from B-Squad’s morphers to A-Squad’s morphers as soon as possible.” At that, he turned to Sky, pointing at the datapad containing the Zord battle records. “Venda, it’s your job to find the necessary inconsistencies in those reports so I can revoke the Rangers’ Zord privileges.”

 Sky couldn’t help but frown. He knew these reports by heart, there were no such inconsistencies. “Sir, what if I can’t find any indications that the reports were falsified?”

 “Then you help it along!” Tarns snapped. “Do I have to spell it out for you? Do what you have to do in order for me to justify invalidating their Megazord access.”

 Sky almost smiled; Tarns all but did spell it out for him. He wanted Sky to tamper with the reports. And Sky’s forehead gem had recorded the entire exchange. More fuel for the fire.

 “Yes, sir.”

 “Very well. Moving on to the next item…” Tarns pulled a datapad from a roomy pocket of his uniform coat and made a few notes on it. Sky had seen him with this tablet many times since he assumed Venda’s identity. It seemed to travel with the Tangarian wherever he went, so it was more than an educated guess that this pad contained invaluable information, and with all the notes Tarns was sure to add during today’s meeting it was quickly becoming the most precious piece of evidence in Sky’s investigation.

 He needed to get his hands on that datapad.

 The next few minutes were spent on topics such as which Earth SPD officers might be sympathetic to their cause and could be approached about joining their operation and if they didn’t want to be involved, who was happy to turn the other way for a small ‘fee’, and those that didn’t want to do either, well, there were plenty of dead-end positions in other areas of the organisation or off-world positions that they could be sent to.

 Sky kept his verbal contributions to the meeting to a minimum, since many of the topics that were being discussed had obviously been planned before he was able to infiltrate the group. He made sure that the recording device hidden in the gem in his forehead remained active, though. What was being recorded right now was invaluable evidence for later.

 “So, as I was saying…” Tarns looked at his entourage. “Once the A-Squad morphers are activated, I want all of you to begin pilot training on the Delta Squad Megazord. It shouldn’t take you more than a day to get proficient in how to operate it.”

 “Sir…” Nian spoke up. “That’s a pretty complicated machine. We’ll have to familiarize ourselves with the Delta Runners first, then learn how to combine, then figure out how to work the controls once in Zord mode. I don’t think we can do all that in one day.”

 Tarns rounded on his subordinate and poked a finger into his chest. “Those five incompetent humans did it in one day!” he growled. “So I’m expecting nothing less from you. All of you! Is that understood?”

 “Yes, sir!” five voices cried in unison.

 “Good, because as soon as you have mastered the Delta Squad Megazord, we’ll move on to the Delta Command Megazord. You need to be able to control both Zords for our plan to work.”

 “Uhm, Commander…” Albar the Praxian piped up hesitantly. “Correct me if I’m wrong, but isn’t the Delta Command Megazord piloted by the Shadow Ranger?”

 Tarns looked at him uncomprehendingly for a moment, and Sky let out an inconspicuous breath of relief that his Shadow morpher was safely hidden in a vault in Kat’s office.

 “I don’t know, I can’t be bothered to keep track of every single detail of Zord operations!” he snapped, then turned to Sky. “Venda! Do we need the Shadow morpher to operate the Delta Command Megazord?”

 “I don’t know, sir.” Sky shrugged. There is no way you are getting your filthy hands on my morpher!

 “Never mind, then. I will check with Manx about this.” Tarns looked thoughtful for a moment.

“Ah, and another thing: You all remember when I told you at our last meeting before we shipped out for Earth that I was planning on getting my cousin Giganus released from prison. Well, I started the expedited paperwork for his release today and have been in contact with him. He is more than happy to join our operation. His knowledge of SPD Earth military operations will be most useful.” Laver Tarns smirked in response to his underlings’ cheers, and through his rictus grin Sky felt like he was going to be sick.

 It took every ounce of acting skill Sky had to smile and chuckle along with the others. Inside, however, he was reeling with this new information. Giganus, of all people!

Sky knew Giganus by his alias of Dru Hammond - his old friend and fellow SPD cadet, who turned out to be a Tangarian traitor. It was Sky who had arrested Dru for the attempted murder of Doggie Cruger, and these charges were too severe to get him released by anyone other than the highest-ranking SPD commanding officer. A rank Laver Tarns had finally achieved.

 If Tarns actually succeeded in getting Dru released, the consequences would be catastrophic! With Sky officially dead now, Dru would certainly exact his revenge for his imprisonment upon the rest of the B-Squad Rangers. There was no way Sky could let that happen!

 “If everything goes right, he should be released by…” Tarns once again consulted his datapad. “…the beginning of next week.”

 Tarns stood up and rubbed his hands together. “Well, all this good news has gotten my appetite up. I think I’ll head to the cafeteria for lunch,” he announced. “Who wants to join me?”

His four lackeys eagerly accepted the invitation. Sky politely declined, citing the urgency of getting to work on the Zord battle reports. Tarns and his entourage headed towards the door. At the threshold, though, he turned.

“Oh, and one last thing, Venda."

“Sir?”

“Some crates were delivered for me from Galactic Headquarters this morning. They are in the Receiving Bay right now. Have them delivered to the command center and the contents assembled right away.” Tarns cast a look back at the alcove where the SPD Commander’s desk stood, and he smiled. “It’s time to redecorate this place to my specifications.”

 “Yes, sir,” Sky replied eagerly. “I’ll take care of it right away.” This was Sky’s chance! As soon as Commander Tarns walked out the door, Sky went to his computer station and called up Kat Manx on a secure line.

“Kat, can we meet in your office right away? We need to talk.”

 

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

 

While Tarns and his entourage were in the cafeteria, eating and probably going over more things they could use against the human Rangers and SPD personnel, Sky had used the excuse of going to see Dr Manx about the Shadow morpher.

 He arrived in the research labs in his disguise as Lt. Venda and ordered everyone out, as he had to speak to Dr Manx about classified matters. The lab had emptied quickly - obviously Tarns and his crew were gaining a reputation already. Once the lab was empty, Kat quickly made some adjustments to the monitors and they were soon able to speak freely.

 “He’s after the Shadow morpher, Kat.”

 “I thought as much. Okay, we know it’s secure, so that’s the main thing. Anything else?”

 Sky nodded. “There’s more. Luckily I’ve got it all recorded and it’s already uploaded. I’m not sure what else exactly he’s up to, but it’s got to involve the Delta MegaZord and more. Also, warn Cruger, he’s trying to get Dru released from prison, reckons it’ll be done by the end of next week. He needs to delay it, or stop it, or something.” Sky took a deep breath, stopping the temptation to run his hand through his fake hair before he spoke again. “I’m getting to the bottom of it, slowly but surely. Kat, Bridge is...” Kat gave him a wan smile.

“I know. I know. I’m monitoring his physical condition carefully.” Sky swallowed hard.

 “Okay.. let me know... Anyway, I have to get back. Please, take care of him.” Sky all but whispered the last bit and turned, leaving quickly before he could say more. Kat quickly changed the monitors back to ensure that the security of Sky’s mission was paramount. As he left her and staff filed back in, Kat took a deep breath. This was a dangerous game that they were playing, and Tarns was good at it, they would just have to be better.

 

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

 

Bridge Carson lay on the bed in his room, staring at the ceiling. Bright, airy sunshine filtered through his window; it was as if the world was trying to throw shade at Bridge’s pain by having a beautiful summer’s day. He thought about drawing the curtains, but that would require getting up, and he simply couldn’t muster the energy for that right now.

 He was so tired. Sleep had long ceased to be restful and these days he felt exhausted just from existing.

If only the grief would stop, even for a little while. He felt permeated with it, radiating grief and then, because of his empathic powers, picking those same emotions right back up again and channeling them back into him. It was a vicious cycle, and even being around Z and Syd didn’t make it any easier. In his heart he knew that his friends and fellow Rangers just wanted to help. He was grateful to them and that’s why he didn’t tell them that their useless sympathies didn’t help.

He looked around the room. The crates didn’t help, either. The Red Ranger’s room was rather spacious, but with almost a dozen large and bulky containers stacked up against every wall, the room had shrunk down to closet-like proportions.

The crates were also a constant reminder of just how off-track his life had gotten. He really didn’t want to be here with nothing to do but to stare at the packed-up remnants of his and Sky’s life together, but since the commander had pretty much confined him to quarters for the next three days, he had little choice in the matter.

 Commander Tarns.

 Bridge blew out a long breath. His mind was still reeling from the meeting at the command center and all the unjustified accusations his new commanding officer had thrown at him. Anger once again threatened to boil up in his chest, but Bridge resolutely squashed down on it. He needed to get a grip on his emotions.

 He also needed to give Laver Tarns the benefit of the doubt. Maybe he really didn’t know how to deal with humans? The commander was Tangarian, after all, and although Bridge didn’t know much about Tangaria, he was pretty sure that their culture was quite different from any of Earth’s many cultures. And at Galactic Headquarters Tarns had been surrounded by a multitude of different alien species while here on Earth he was dealing mostly with humans, such as Bridge and his fellow Rangers. Maybe the commander just needed some more time to adjust and realize that cooperation worked a lot better than subjugation. There had to be some kind of common ground that Tarns and the B-Squad could agree on.

Or maybe Laver Tarns might be more agreeable if Bridge spoke to him in private. Bridge rose up onto his elbows, contemplating that thought. After work, away from the command center Tarns might actually listen to him if he laid out his points openly and backed up all his reasonings calmly and respectfully. Then they could work on logical solutions together, talk to each other man to man.

 Yes, that could work!

 Bridge lay back down, folded his hands over his stomach and began to compose his arguments in his mind, together with suggestions for compromises. He fell asleep halfway through his mental presentation.

 

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

 

Tarns had retired to his quarters after putting things in motion for his ultimate plan for Earth’s SPD base and tomorrow he would take it to the next step. The plans for revenge against Earth’s rangers for what happened to his cousin were in place and slowly taking place. The first step had been taken, they no longer had access to their Megazord, so that was good.

 Taking another drink, he stood by the window and looked out over the city’s night sky. It was strangely beautiful, if only it weren’t full of stupid, incompetent, scummy humans, it would almost be a great posting. The only reason he had taken this position was that it was perfect for his plans.

 His musings were interrupted by the chime of his doorbell and he frowned. His crew knew never to disturb him once he had retired for the evening, on pain of severe punishment. Growling to himself, drink still in hand, he stalked over to the door and opened it, his voice practically growling when he saw who was standing there.

 “Carlton! What the hell are you doing here? I told you I didn’t want to see you for three days!” Bridge swallowed hard and spoke carefully.

 “I’m sorry to disturb you sir, but I felt we could perhaps discuss what happened in the command centre this morning?” Bridge tried to keep talking but Tarns held up his hand, furious at this puny human’s impertinence.

 “Discuss? My orders are not up for discussion! I was perfectly clear this morning, Red Ranger. Now, for this stupid act of insubordination, you’re suspended without pay for a whole week instead of three days, and if you say anything other than yes sir, sorry sir, then your fellow rangers will be jetting to the moon for cleanup of radioactive waste duty, am I clear, Ranger?” Tarns’ tone was so hard, so stiff and so angry, Bridge didn’t need his powers to feel the hatred and anger emanating from Tarns right now. He swallowed hard, crestfallen that his plan had backfired so badly. He now realized that Tarns would never listen like this. Perhaps he might at the end of the week, but if he was still like this, well then, resignation was his only option.

 Tarns loomed over him. “And to make sure I don’t see your face for the next seven days…” The commander leaned in until Bridge could smell the alcohol on his breath. “...I’m ordering you off the base, effective immediately! You have twenty minutes to leave, otherwise I’ll have a security detail escort you off the premises!”

 Bridge was so shocked that all he could mutter was, “Yes sir, Sorry for disturbing you, sir.”

He stepped back and the door closed in his face. Once it had closed and locked, Bridge staggered slightly. The hate and anger, he hadn’t felt anything like that since Gruumm. Shaking his head to try and get his composure back, Bridge hurried back to his room to pack, messaging Z along the way. Thankfully, he had a place to flee to.

 

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

 

Once Bridge was back at his quarters he changed quickly into civilian clothes. Making sure his morpher was attached to his trousers, he grabbed some money and threw a couple of things into a bag, heading out of his room. Without even really thinking about it, he’d included a couple of pieces of Sky’s clothes, just a couple of t-shirts that he liked to sleep in. He was so focussed he didn’t notice Z coming up beside him as he walked towards the lift.

 “Bridge, are you okay? What happened?” Bridge shook his head, trying not to think too hard but kept walking towards the exit while he gave Z a brief rundown of his encounter with Tarns. He tried to keep his voice steady, but it was an effort.

 “That guy, Z, something's seriously off with him.” Z nodded in agreement.

 “We know. Just take some time and relax, get yourself together and forget about work and this idiot for a while.” Bridge glanced at her as they entered the lift, heading down to the main entrance.

 “I will try.” Bridge’s voice wasn’t very hopeful.

 “Where will you go? Just in case Syd and I want to come see you.” Bridge exited the lift, Z still by his side and slowly began walking towards the main entrance.

 “Sky and I had just bought an apartment, only one week before he headed off and...” Bridge’s voice cracked and Z just squeezed his hand. He shook his head. “I’ll send you the address later. I’m going to go there, and just try and.. Well, I don’t know.” They reached the main doors and Z stopped, looking at him.

 “We’re just a call away, Bridge. Please call us if you need us. And don’t forget to eat.” Bridge gave a tiny smile that no way reached his eyes.

 “I will. Thanks Z.” Z gave him a quick embrace and then was gone, back to work. Bridge looked around and then, shaking his head at the strange turn his life had taken in the last week, he exited the building and headed off into the night.

 TBC…

Chapter Text

As soon as Tarns walked into Dr Manx’s lab the next day, she knew things were about to get difficult and dangerous. She looked up and gave him a textbook salute as he walked up to her.

 “Everyone out!” The staff quickly left and as soon as they were gone, he thrust a computer pad into her hands.

 “Here are the upgrades I want you to begin to make to the Delta Squad Megazord. I also want you to begin to reprogram the A-Squad morphers so that my squad can use them immediately.” Kat took the pad and began to look at the details on it, after unlocking it with her security clearance, and frowned slightly. “Also, where is the Shadow morpher?”

 “As I told Lt Venda yesterday sir, it was destroyed when Commander Tate died in the shuttle explosion, didn’t he tell you?” Tarns growled and suddenly realised that Venda had, he just hadn’t taken it in.

 “He did. But I wanted to hear it from you, wanted to make sure. So how is the Delta Command Megazord running now?”

 “It’s not, sir,” Kat said. “Frankly, ever since Gruumm’s defeat, alien monster attacks have all but diminished, and there have been no incidents that the Rangers couldn’t handle with just the Delta Squad Megazord. So figuring out how to run the Delta Command Megazord isn’t on my priority list right now.”

 Tarns glowered at her. “Well, consider it top of your priority list now. Not having both Megazords in perfect running shape is a serious breach of Earth security, Dr. Manx, and it needs to be rectified immediately.” He continued to stare her down until she acquiesced with a nod.

 “Now, the morphers, how long?”

 “Sir, the A-Squad morphers will take time to reprogram, since they were synced with the A-Squad Megazord, which was destroyed. They were never calibrated for the Delta Squad Megazord. This Zord also needs expert handling. Are your compatriots all Ranger trained?” Tarns actually growled at her.

 “Yes, they are,” he lied. “And I don’t care, you have your orders. I want this work done by the end of the week, is that understood Dr Manx?” Kat looked at the schematics on the pad and frowned even harder.

 “Sir, that is going to require a lot of work, overtime and a lot of specialised equipment and technicians, do I have your approval to access the extra resources I will need to get this done in your time frame, sir?” Tarns just frowned hard at her.

 “How much overtime and resources?” Kat did some quick calculations. She needed to make a play for as much time as possible.

 “At least five days of running double shifts for the Megazords with at least a dozen technicians per vehicle. As for the morphers, if I work on them exclusively, as they are very delicate and time consuming, I should have them done by the end of the week as well. But it will be a tight time frame, sir.” Tarns frowned and shook his head.

 “Single shifts only, double rota of technicians only on the Zords, you must oversee every bit of it yourself. As for the morphers, only you and no one else are to touch them, and you can work on them at the same time. Is that clear?” Kat shook her head.

 “Sir, that’s almost an impossible deadline to make. I can’t be in two places at the same time.” Tarns leaned towards her so that he was practically breathing on her face. Kat worked hard not to take a step back involuntarily.

 “You’ll make it work, otherwise you’ll find yourself looking for work somewhere else, and I will make sure you never work again, is that understood?” Kat blinked hard at him. Kat finally slowly nodded.

 “I will make it work somehow, sir.”

 “See that you do, Manx.” With that he whirled around and left the room. Kat’s staff filed back in and they threw her concerned looks but she waved off their concerns. Tarns was certainly more dangerous than they had originally thought. Taking a deep breath, she looked up with a small smile as one of her techs brought her a cup of her favourite tea. She had work to do and it wasn’t going to be easy.

 

Later that morning

 

Z and Sydney walked into the command centre, Grace and Airian behind them, wanting to get their orders for the day. Tarns was waiting for them, frowning hard at whatever report he was looking at right then. He barely glanced up as they walked in.  

 “Draw, Gelato! You’re late!” Syd and Z glanced at each other. Z stepped forward slightly; as second in command, it was her duty to act as a buffer between the others and Tarns.

 “Sir, sorry sir. We had to stop to break up an altercation between a couple of cadets that were on the verge of physical violence. I’m sorry we’re late, it won’t happen again.”

 “Did you punish those cadets?” Tarns seemed almost eager to hear that they were punished.

 “Yes sir, we did. Extra work duties and cleaning tasks.” Z answered quickly, wanting to get this briefing over and done with quickly.

 “Not harsh enough, but done now. Stop being so gentle on the cadets, they need toughening up. So, to teach you two a lesson, you’re both going to join those cadets in their extra work duties and cleaning tasks. Plus you’re also going to be on night shift for the next week thanks to that idiot Red Ranger of yours, is that understood?”

 Syd and Z exchanged glances and then saluted, now Bridge’s message made sense, so Tarns was punishing them as well. No way were they going to object to that, not with the mood Tarns seemed to be in. “Yes sir.”

Grace and Airian wisely stayed silent.

“Yellow, Green Rangers - you two are on street duty. Dismissed. I don’t want to see any of you until tomorrow, is that understood!”

All four of them chorused. “Yes sir.” They saluted and turned quickly, leaving the command centre. Once they left, they split up and Syd and Z headed off. They said nothing, knowing that whilst they were on the base, they had to watch themselves. Tarns was making everyone feel nervous and extra careful of what they said around him.

 

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

 

Kat Manx leaned back in her chair, let out a long breath and rubbed her tired eyes. On the desk in front of her lay the five A-Squad morphers she had just finished reprogramming. An hour ago, Tarns had contacted her for the dozenth time requesting an update on the state of the calibrations. He was more than eager to have his gang take over the Delta Squad Megazord. Kat’s stomach turned queasy every time she thought about those alien thugs behind the controls of her beloved Zord. So much power in the hands of these traitors…she hoped fervently that Sky would be able to wrap this investigation up as soon as possible. And until then she and Sky needed to use the few tricks she had up her sleeve to stall the Megazord piloting practice for as long as they could.

She took a long drink from her tea mug while she contemplated her next step. With the morphers ready for action it was high time to reactivate one of her little electronic toys. It took her a few moments to find what she was looking for in the back of her lab vault, but in the end she pulled out an unobtrusive-looking flash drive.

 It had been a few years, but she remembered fondly how well this computer virus had worked during battle simulations for the Delta Squad Megazord. It contained half a dozen different disruptive actions and it had frustrated the B-Squad Rangers to no end. Once activated, it would launch one destructive action at a time, from mechanical failure, electrical malfunctions to a complete systems collapse and more.

 Kat smiled; the Rangers fought their battles from the Megazord; she, however, fought her battles for the Megazord.

 She sent a formal message to Lieutenant Venda on an official channel, informing him that the morphers were ready for pick-up. She hoped that Sky would collect them personally.

He did. It was by sheer luck that she was alone in her lab when he walked through the door, so they wasted no time putting their heads together. Kat pulled the flash drive from her pocket.

 “I reactivated the old Megazord training session virus from a few years ago. You remember?”

 Sky grinned. “Oh yeah, I hated those sessions! That should hold Tarns’ thugs back for a while. And I’ll do my best to have Venda be the worst Zord pilot in history.”

 Kat nodded but didn’t share his grin. “The problem is that I can’t transfer this virus remotely. It needs to be physically inserted into the computer console of the Red Delta Runner and I suspect that Tarns is having my movements monitored every time I leave the lab. That counts me out.”

 “Well, I’m the obvious choice to do that, then,” Sky said. “I know the ins and outs of the Red Ranger cockpit and…”

 But Kat was already shaking her head. “Too risky. Tarns has doubled the security in the Zord Bay and I can’t risk you getting caught. You are the most important operative of our mission. Besides, you are on Tarns’s constant beck and call, what if he tries to get in contact with you for something while you are sneaking around the Zord Bay?”

 Sky frowned. Kat had a point. Tarns did expect ‘Lieutenant Venda’ to be at his disposal virtually around the clock. “Who else, then?” he wondered aloud. “Who can we trust with this? We can’t get the other Rangers involved, and Boom is no longer here.”

 Kat nodded. “We would need someone stealthy who can get in and out of places virtually unseen.”

 Sky rubbed his chin in contemplation. “Like a ninja,” he said.

 They looked at each other and Kat’s face suddenly split into a sly smile when she realized that they were both thinking the same thing. “Or Jack.”

 

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

 

If this wasn’t such a grave situation, I’d actually be excited about this,” Jack Landors thought from the shadows of the alley he was loitering in. He pulled the hood of his black sweatshirt over his head and took a peek around the corner of the building. Kat had said her associate would be meeting Jack here at ten p.m. and according to Jack’s watch that was one minute ago. A quick look left and right confirmed that he was still the only person in this area – the area being the alley between two SPD storage warehouses. Jack had chosen this location as the meeting point, because from here it was just a short dash across a narrow courtyard to get to the back wall of the Delta Base’s Zord Bay.

 When Kat Manx called him this morning asking for a favor, Jack was curious. After she explained the details of the favor to him, he was wary, but it never occurred to him to decline her request.

 After all, he had been in near daily contact with Z ever since the new commander took over, and her depictions of Laver Tarns’ behavior and actions had him from worried to furious. There was a difference between being an asshole and being downright dangerous, and Tarns’ latest decision of handing the A-Squad morphers over to his five cronies and transferring Megazord access to them fell squarely into the ‘dangerous’ category in Jack’s book. So yeah, Jack was more than happy to do his part in Kat’s sabotage scheme. He wished he could do more than just plant an electronic virus, but if that’s all she needed him to do at this time, then that was ok.

If the mysterious associate with the virus would just show up!

 Jack went motionless at the sound of an approaching noise. Something was familiar about those rhythmic hydraulic sounds…a smile spread across Jack’s face and he crouched down in anticipation of Kat’s associate. A moment later RIC’s head appeared around the corner, and the robotic dog let out a high-pitched whine when he spotted Jack.

 “Hey, boy, good to see you,” Jack said, scratching RIC behind his metallic ears. RIC purred for a moment, but then butted Jack’s arm with his snout and dropped a small device from his mouth into Jack’s outstretched hand. He let out a single bark, then turned and padded back out of the alley.

 “Yeah, I miss you too, buddy,” Jack murmured, pocketed the USB stick and darted across the courtyard towards the Zord Bay. Once he connected with the back wall he wasted no time phasing right through the concrete and into the hangar.

 Once inside, he tried his best to stay out of the view of the security cameras as he made his way to the Red Delta Runner. He phased once more, this time through the vehicle’s body to re-materialize inside the cockpit. He had a brief moment of deja-vu as he assumed his old seat behind the steering wheel, but he shook it off and focused on the task at hand.

A morpher was needed to pilot the runner, but for simply turning on the cockpit instruments there was a Start button embedded in the pilot console. As soon as the cockpit lit up he inserted the stick into the data port on the dashboard. The virus only took a few seconds to transmit itself into the Delta Runner. Jack grinned. Maybe he would ask Kat to record the fake Rangers’ attempt to form the Megazord. He could use a good laugh after Z’s ominous reports these past few weeks.

 Jack was back across the huge hall and through the back wall a minute later, still smiling as he sauntered down the street and was swallowed up by the night.

 

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

 

Sky looked at the red A-Squad morpher in his hand as he stood shoulder to shoulder with Laver Tarns’ other four cronies. It seemed like half a lifetime ago that he watched in awe, admiration and some envy as the morphed and fully armed A-Squad trotted by him on their way to their top-secret mission. That was before Charlie and her crew had shown their true colors and betrayed SPD.

 Now a betrayal of a different and yet similar type was going to take place, and Sky suddenly felt a pang of nostalgia for his old B-Squad Blue Ranger position. At least back then he always knew who he was and what he was fighting for, whereas right now he had to do all he could to make sure that this fake Ranger squad never got control of the Delta Squad Megazord. Easier said than done.

 “Men, listen up!” Laver Tarns barked as he strode back and forth before them in the command center. He looked animated and self-important. “Today is the day we initiate the next phase of our plan. From now on your number one priority is to familiarize yourselves with every aspect of being an SPD Earth Ranger. Your suits, your arsenal, the Delta Runners and, of course, the Delta Squad Megazord. Your training begins right now. Transform!”

 “Yes, sir!”

 There was no roll call, no uniformity, no team transformation. Everyone just held out their morphers, pressed the button and unceremoniously transformed into the Power Ranger of their respective color. It felt weird, almost surreal, for Sky to be inside the A-Squad Red Ranger’s suit. There was none of the pride or energy rush that usually accompanied his morphs. Instead he simply felt - sad.

 Tarns, however, was excited enough for all of them. “Excellent!” he exclaimed as he looked each of the squad members up and down. He rubbed his big hands almost gleefully. “My very own Power Ranger squad.  I have been looking forward to this since we arrived on this ugly rock. Now get to your Delta Runners and begin your training exercises. I’ll be monitoring your progress from here. Dismissed!”

 Sky was glad for the helmet’s darkened visor while he went through the motions of slapping backs and clapping shoulders in feinted excitement as the new A-Squad made their way to the tubes that led to their respective Delta Runners in the Zord bay.

Since they couldn’t run battle simulations anywhere in NewTech City, Sky took the crew to the old abandoned rock quarry on the outskirts of town. They had barely arrived there when the newly minted A-Squad Rangers suddenly went off on a puerile spree of epic proportions like children with their new toys at Christmastime.

 Green and Yellow were shooting their lasers at each other, Pink was doing donuts and Blue was flying at Sky’s Runner with his rescue cable extended, clearly intent on hooking onto the Red Delta Runner to try and drag it across the quarry. The inside of Sky’s helmet reverberated with their laughter and hooting, and Sky’s exasperated retorts were drowned out as he dodged the Blue GyroCopter and its cable for the third time in as many minutes.

 The aliens were having the time of their lives, and the childish shenanigans only came to a halt as the booming voice of their commander reverberated through the intercom.

 “What are you doing, you idiots? You are supposed to be training, not trashing the Runners! You’re all on Zord cleaning duty when you get back. With toothbrushes!” Tarns sounded spitting mad and it effectively subdued his lackeys’ enthusiasm. They fell quiet immediately and obediently lined up their vehicles in a row.

 “Venda, combine the Delta Runners into the Megazord. Now!” Tarns yelled.

 “Yes, sir.” Time to play dumb.

 The Red Delta Runner was the central part of the Megazord, the vehicle that all the other vehicles docked on to. Therefore the Red Ranger was essential in linking up the Runners, but the other four pilots had to line them up correctly. Sky now had the delicate job of botching up the interlinkage as many times as possible without being obvious.

 “Initiating transformation sequence.”

 It took forever and thankfully Nian, Kinkle, Albar and Tetcho all did more than their fair share of messing up the combination maneuvers during the first few attempts. It was only when Sky noticed that they were slowly getting the hang of it that he stepped in.

The perfectionist in Sky cringed as he once again misaligned the connections between the Red and the Pink Runner and Pink’s vehicle crashed to the ground.

 “Damnit, Venda, get your act together!” Albar’s guttural voice swore over the video screen and Sky chuckled soundlessly. The Praxian was the biggest and roughest-looking of Tarns’ entourage, yet somehow he had ended up in the Pink Ranger suit and Sky could just imagine how irritating that must be for the alien thug. He mumbled an insincere apology and proceeded to line Pink up once again, this time hooking up that connection correctly and miscalculating Green’s docking procedure instead.

 In the end it took way too long until Tarns’ crew finally managed to combine their five Delta Runners with the required accuracy to transform into the Delta Squad Megazord. Sky smiled grimly on his way back to base; at this rate, they would need several more days of training until they could handle their machines effectively enough for Tarns’ liking.

 The next day, however, much to Sky’s chagrin and Tarns’ delight, the transformation maneuver went much smoother. The Debonians and Praxians seemed to have learned from yesterday’s mistakes, and Sky couldn’t repeat the same slip-ups without looking obvious. Consequently, the formation was completed in a fraction of the time it took the previous day and Sky had to grind out the command “Activating Megazord mode,” much sooner than he would have liked.

 Thankfully, that wasn’t the only thing that activated. Kat’s virus was programmed to be dormant inside the Red Delta Runner’s system until the Megazord was formed. Now that the transformation was complete and all the systems were linked up, the virus would automatically spread throughout the Zord’s entire system, activating disruptive actions at random.

 “Let’s start with something simple,” he said. “Like walking in a straight line.” He tapped a few commands to make the Megazord move forward. A shudder went through the huge battle machine, but otherwise it stayed motionless.

 System Malfunction blinked in big red letters across the console display.  Thank you, Kat.

 “Hey, what’s going on?”

 “Now what is the problem?”

 “I don’t get it,” Nian the Debonian cried, “I’ve seen the archival footage, the B-Squad can do flips and somersaults in this thing, and we can’t even get it to move!”

 “Stupid piece of trashmetal…” A loud thunk resounded through the intercom as Kinkle hit his fist against his dashboard.

 Sky looked out of the Plexiglas pane of his cockpit, grinning at the litany of complaints from his teammates. He chimed in with some colorful curse words every now and then, but for the most part he let the aliens work themselves into a lather over all the malfunctions, systems failures and error messages they encountered over the next few hours.

 In the end it took them most of the day to finally figure out how to make the Megazord walk halfway across the rock quarry. They didn’t even attempt to make it turn around or run.

 The next few days were pretty much a repetition of the first. No matter what the alien Ranger squad tried, they simply couldn’t get the Delta Squad Megazord to work properly. It almost seemed like the Zord was fighting them; for every step they took forward, they ended up two steps back not long after that.

 They managed to make the Zord draw its pistol, but then they couldn’t get it to fire. When they finally worked out how to fire it, it wouldn’t aim correctly. By the end of the day, the walls of the rock quarry all around them showed dozens of scorched holes from the laser shots that went awry. To top it all off, when the Rangers tried to have the Zord holster its gun, the battle machine dropped it instead and the next few hours were spent in ever-mounting frustration as the Rangers tried a myriad of button and lever combinations to try to pick it back up. The sun was setting over the quarry when Sky finally decided to put them out of their misery and ‘accidentally’ pressed the right button sequence for the Zord to grasp the weapon and slot it back into its holster.

A relieved sigh went up from the Praxians and the Debonians, and his alien crew members quickly disengaged their vehicles from Zord mode to Runner’s mode to head back to base.

 Sky smirked; he knew they were all hungry, tired, fed up and frustrated with training. He was as hungry and tired as the rest of them, but he would gladly come back to this rock quarry for as long as he could drag this out.

 

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

 

“This is absolutely unacceptable!” Laver Tarns roared at Kat Manx, pointing to the video screen where a recording of the latest Megazord training chaos was playing back. “No one is that inept, especially not my officers! So the fault is clearly with the Megazord and therefore with you, Doctor!”

 A few feet away, Sky, who was standing at attention with the rest of Tarns’ entourage, was gritting his teeth. A little while ago, they had been subjected to a long and harsh tongue-lashing from their commander, laced with expletives, reproaches and threats, but the way Tarns spoke to Kat right now was what really made Sky’s hackles rise.

 “It could be a flaw in the synchronization between the morphers and the Megazord, sir,” the feline scientist said, and her face was a mask of sincerity. “But it’s more likely that there is a mechanical problem somewhere within the Megazord, probably deterioration of some of the non-metallic components of the inter-connective system. These parts wear down with disuse, and ever since Gruumm’s defeat, there has been no need to assemble the Megazord.” She inclined her head and shrugged her shoulders nonchalantly. “For all I know, the problem could be that mice have chewed through some cables.”

 Tarns narrowed his eyes at her. “So let me get this straight: My Megazord is not working and your solution would be to fumigate the Zord Bay?”

 The side of Kat Manx’ mouth twitched upwards, but only for a second. “I will run a hardware system’s diagnostic, but that is a lengthy and very involved process and there is no way that I can…”

 Tarns spun around and, without warning, slammed his huge fist down onto the computer desk with such force that the crack could surely be heard through the closed doors and out in the hallway. “Stop telling me what can’t be done, Manx! I am commander of this base and your job is it to facilitate my job! I want this Megazord fully operational and I don’t care how you do it, I just care that you do it!”

 The Tangarian was closing in on Kat and his voice now fell from a shout to a near whisper, and somehow that made him sound even more dangerous. “If this Megazord isn’t up and running exactly the way it should be by tomorrow, I am going to bring in a team of Zord experts from Galactic Headquarters to look over every inch of it. And if they find anything out of place, anything that shouldn’t be there, there’ll be hell to pay. Is that understood?”

Tarns’ alien eyes were boring into Kat Manx, hard and cold, and she couldn’t tell whether he was bluffing or he actually knew. The scientist took two involuntary steps back and clutched her tablet to her chest like a shield.

 Sky felt his hands curling into fists; Dr. Manx was not easily intimidated, but Laver Tarns was overstepping his boundaries as commander so blatantly and there was nothing anyone could do about it. It was an intolerable situation.

 On the other side of the command center, Kat mumbled something unintelligible and rounded the command console to gather up the five A-Squad morphers. She cast a glance at Sky that clearly told him ‘the jig is up’, and Sky knew that she had no choice but to ‘fix’ the Megazord. That meant that they were out of stalling options. Sky squared his jaw in determination. One way or the other, he had to bring this case to a close as soon as possible.

 TBC…

Chapter Text

The view had been one of the main reasons why they bought this apartment.

 ‘Weird, what a difference a few weeks makes,’ Bridge thought as he leaned against the sliding glass door that led out to the balcony, looking out at the sun setting over Tommy Oliver Park across the street. The view from the 12th floor was beautiful; over the tops of the trees he could see the sparkle of the park’s lake, studded with sailboats and jet-skis in the middle of acres upon acres of rolling green meadows interspersed with jogging tracks, picnic areas and playgrounds. Food and ice cream vendors were pushing their carts along the promenade where humans and aliens alike were strolling, sitting on benches or walking their dogs and assorted other pets, or just letting their kids run and play.

 Bridge had fallen in love with this view right away at their first walkthrough of the apartment. He remembered how Sky’s eyes had lit up when the realtor told them how great the fishing was at the lake, both from shore and from rental boats. He had grinned and raised his eyebrows at Bridge with a ‘we are so going fishing’ expression.

 Bridge almost smiled at the memory until his heart reminded him with a pang that there would be no fishing now, no boating, no cookouts, no strolls through the park on off-days.

 Suddenly, the park just looked grey and doleful to him. He turned away from the door, ran a hand through his still slightly sweat-damp hair and cast a glance at the only piece of furniture in the bedroom, the inflatable mattress he’d been sleeping on this past week. A little while ago he had once again woken up covered in sweat, Sky’s name on his lips and the fireball of the shuttle explosion still so vividly in his mind that he couldn’t stop his hands from shaking for several minutes. In the six days he had been at the apartment, he’d had the same nightmare three times.

 For lack of anything else to do, Bridge left the bedroom to wander aimlessly around the apartment. They hadn’t had any time to buy furniture or appliances yet. It was another thing they had planned on doing soon – and now it would never get done. In the kitchen, Bridge walked right past the juice containers and packages of granola bars Syd had dropped off yesterday. He knew he should eat, but it just took so much effort these days. He ran his hand over the kitchen counter where the four-slot toaster would have stood, then walked into the bathroom where he stared at his reflection in the mirror. He barely recognized the gaunt man with the stubbled cheeks and bloodshot eyes staring back at him.

 I shouldn’t be here by myself, Sky, you should be here with me. This shouldn’t be an empty apartment, Sky, it should be filled with stuff that we picked out together. I shouldn’t be standing here alone in this bathroom, Sky, we should be in the bedroom together, in a big, comfortable bed, looking out over the park together. Together!

 His gaze dropped onto the double-sink counter and the five items on it: two toothbrushes, a tube of toothpaste and Sky’s razor and shaving cream. They had only spent one night at the apartment so far, and therefore the bathroom held only the barest necessities.

Bridge picked up the razor, a Hanukkah present from him to Sky. When it came to shaving, Sky preferred an old-fashioned wet shave. Bridge watched the light reflect off the sharp stainless steel blade. All he had to do was to pop the blade out of the casing.

 The love of my life is dead, my job is in jeopardy, my future is in shambles - wouldn’t it just be easier to…

 Whoa, no! Feeling guilty for his selfish and cowardly thoughts, he put the razor back onto the counter and quickly backed out of the bathroom.

 When he came back into the bedroom, night had fallen over the city. Bridge plopped onto the air mattress and put his head into his hands. He had his family and friends to think about, people who cared about him and loved him. As halfway tempting as that razor blade had looked, he couldn’t do this to them.

There was always another way. He had to keep trying to find some sort of middle ground with his new commander, for his own sake as well as that of his fellow Rangers. It was going to be an uphill battle with every step, but there was no way around that.

 Bridge didn’t need his special abilities to sense that Laver Tarns didn’t give a damn about any of them. He knew now that Tarns didn’t want cooperation from his Rangers, he wanted obedience. It was not the right way to run the SPD Delta Base, but unfortunately, Galactic Headquarters put Laver Tarns in charge of Earth’s biggest and mightiest defense force. The safety of the entire planet was in his hands. Wasn’t that reason enough to try to come to some kind of reasonable compromise with his Rangers? They were his first and best line of defense, after all. Somehow, Bridge had to convince him of that.

 For all the good it would do.

 There was not much of a chance the commander would listen to him, let alone reason with him, especially since their last confrontation. But there was simply nothing else Bridge could think of doing. He had to give it one last try before he put in his resignation.

 Bridge sighed, rose from the mattress and somehow found the energy to shower and shave. He pulled his uniform from his bag. While he dressed he couldn’t help but wonder if this was the last time he would be wearing his Red Ranger attire. He brushed some imaginary lint off his sleeves, holstered his blaster and clipped his morpher to his belt. He was as ready as he could get.

 This late in the evening, Tarns would most likely be in the Commander’s Quarters. After their last encounter, however, Bridge was hesitant to go to his old lodgings. He would check the Command Center first; against all odds, Tarns might be working late. He headed out the door and resolutely strode down the street to make the fifteen-minute walk towards the Delta Base.

 

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

 

Sky took a long, calming breath as he stood at the central computer console of the Delta Base Command Center, glaring at the monitor in front of him while pretending to scroll through reports. He tried very hard not to look at the new “Command Station”, aka the contents of Tarns’ crates. It had been assembled a week ago, but no matter how often he looked at it, he just couldn’t get used to the sight.

 Commander Cruger’s – and his - old sleek console had been removed and in its place now loomed a pompous, L-shaped desk so enormous that it barely fit onto the raised platform in the Commander’s Corner. Even more of an eyesore was the garish monstrosity of an executive chair behind it, overstuffed and so out of proportions that it looked more like a throne than anything else.

 Laver Tarns, however, obviously loved it. He sat behind his new desk like a draconic ruler overlooking his subjects. Every now and then he would look through a report, but mostly he just barked orders at Sky, who was back on command center duty as long as it took Kat Manx to ‘fix’ the Megazord.

He seemed to enjoy himself immensely, and Sky noticed that he was also hitting his booze flask quite regularly. At that rate the commander would soon be in no shape to keep himself up much longer, and Sky was secretly hoping for exactly that outcome. He had a plan, and he needed Drunk Tarns for it to work. His chance came about an hour later. Out of the corner of his eye, Sky saw Tarns’ head lolling to the side to bump against the headrest of the chair. A minute later, the SPD Base commander was snoring softly.

 Time for Sky to make his move.

 Tarns was currently facing away from the shorter part of the L-shape, where he had placed his ever-present datapad earlier. Sky approached the dozing Tangarian and carefully arranged a few other report-pads around it, effectively covering up the personal device, before he positioned himself in front of the commander and cleared his throat. Tarns’ eyes flew open and Sky handed him another report for his token signature.

 “Sir, it’s pretty late and you’ve had a long and busy day,” he said. “This is the last report for the day. It would probably be a good idea to conserve some energy for tomorrow.”

 “You’re right,” Tarns agreed, signed off on the report without looking at it and handed Sky back the pad while he rose unsteadily. “I think I will turn in for the night. Didn’t think it was going to be that much work trying to clean up Tate’s mess.”

 Bastard. “Right, sir. Would you like me to give you a hand up to your quarters?” Sky accompanied his superior officer across the room, partially to jump in if the drunk fool stumbled and fell, but mostly to keep Tarns’ attention away from the concealed datapad.

 “No, but have my dinner sent up in a few minutes,” Tarns replied while he shuffled through the door. “You know what I like.”

 “Very well, sir. Good night.”

 Sky scowled at the closing door for a moment before he turned and briskly strode back towards the commander’s desk. He uncovered Tarns’ personal datapad and turned it on to discover a password-protected home screen. Thankfully, among the few electronic gadgets Kat had provided him with to facilitate his mission was a portable password decryption kit. He pulled the USB-stick-looking device from his pocket, popped open the cover on the tablet’s data port and inserted the decrypter. After the two longest minutes of his life, the datapad’s screen unlocked and Sky wasted no time scrolling through the home screen’s contents, searching for any and all files related to Tarns’ treasonous endeavors

 There were quite a few. Names and contact information of co-conspirators, audio files of clandestine meetings with like-minded SPD officers, inventory lists and location information of armaments at Tarns’ disposal as well as extensive notes from every meeting he had with Venda and the rest of his crew.

 He hurried to his computer station, connected the data transmission cable to the pad and initialized a download of all files on the device.

 The download was only halfway done when, all of a sudden, the command doors swished open and in strode Laver Tarns.

 “Venda! You never sent my dinner, and I also can’t find my datapad anywhere…” The rest of the sentence remained unsaid as Tarns’ gaze fell onto the device in question next to Sky’s console. Sky suppressed a groan; worst timing imaginable!

 Worse yet, the transmission cable and the pad’s unlocked home screen were clearly visible from where Tarns was standing. Sky blurted out the first thing that popped into his head.

 “I was just transferring the edited Zord reports to your device for your perusal, sir.”

 “But I never gave you the password to my datapad, Venda.” Tarns voice had gone low and menacing. He was clearly not buying it. “What are you up to?”

 Fate cruelly decided to answer Tarns’ question at just that moment when the monitor at Sky’s station let out a bleep and the message “Download Complete” appeared in bold red letters.

The next two seconds seemed to happen in slow motion; Tarns looked at the message, then at Sky, and his face contorted in a rictus of rage as he reached for his holstered blaster. The commander’s semi-inebriated stage, however, gave Sky an extra half-second to draw his own weapon and a moment later the two men were pointing their blasters at each other.

 “You traitor to our cause!” Tarns snarled. “So it wasn’t my imagination that you’ve been acting odd! I’ve been noticing this for a while now.”

 With his cover effectively blown, Sky made no more effort at denials. “What gave me away?”

 “You’ve been so much more formal lately, even when we were still at Galactic Headquarters. And you haven’t told me a Xybrian joke in weeks,” Tarns said. “I chalked it up to nerves, but now I see that you’ve been going behind my back this whole time.” The Tangarian was fuming. “I trusted you, Venda. Out of all of my aides I trusted you the most. And you betrayed me!”

 Tarns looked genuinely hurt, and Sky was extremely satisfied with that look.

 “And I thank you for that trust, because if you hadn’t, I couldn’t’ve gotten half the amount of information that I did,” Sky said, trying to sound cool and collected. All the while his mind was racing; how was he going to break this standoff?

 Realizing the precariousness of his situation, Sky knew he needed help. Thankfully, embedded in the bracelet he was wearing was an SOS button that would send a distress call directly to Kat’s office. He could just barely reach it with the tip of his middle finger and as he surreptitiously depressed it he was fervently hoping Kat was working late tonight.

 “Who are you sending my information to?” Tarns wanted to know. “Did you suddenly decide to become patriotic and work with the Xybrian government?”

 “I work for Earth SPD, Tarns,” Sky told him. “I always have.” He savored the incredulous look on Tarns’ face at this revelation. “It’s over, Tarns. With all the evidence we have against you, you are looking at life in prison for planetary high treason. Your only option is to surrender, and if you cooperate you might just get life at an SPD correctional facility rather than a Tangarian labor camp.”

This was not what Laver Tarns wanted to hear. The Tangarian bared his teeth in a snarl and Sky saw his grip tightening on his gun. “Well, here is another option for you: I will kill you right here, then have it arranged that your entire family back on Xybria will meet with some very unfortunate accidents. What do you say to that?”

It was at exactly that time that the doors swished open once again and Bridge Carson walked across the threshold.

 

TBC…

Chapter Text

The Red Ranger walked into the room just far enough for the doors to close behind him when he stopped dead in his tracks and his eyes went wide with confusion at the scene in front of him.

“Whoa!” Bridge’s hand instinctively went to the butt of his blaster, but he did not pull it from its holster. “What’s going on here?”

Both Tarns and Sky flinched at Bridge’s appearance, but kept their guns pointed at each other nevertheless. Neither could afford giving the other any kind of opening, although the situation just got a great deal worse.

Sky couldn’t believe his bad luck. Of all people, why Bridge? Why now? He wasn’t even supposed to be on base!

Laver Tarns, however, jumped on the opportunity. “Larson,” he roared, “I’m glad you’re here! Help me contain this spy, I just found out he is a secret agent for the Xybrian government!”

“Why don’t you both put down your blasters and we can all talk about this,” Bridge suggested carefully. “Whatever ‘this’ is.” Bridge frowned. “And why would he have to spy for them, they are an ally and part of the Galactic Federation, just like Earth is.”

“I don’t know and I don’t care, it’s semantics! Just shoot the traitor, Varton!” Bridge was really getting tired of all the differing names. Tarns just couldn’t get it right.

“I’m not shooting anyone sir, explain yourselves, both of you!” Bridge was getting very frustrated, but he had to make a decision, and it had to be right now.  

Sky opened his mouth to speak, but the Tangarian beat him to the punch. “I’ll explain later, but for now I order you to arrest this intruder,” Tarns snapped at Bridge.

Bridge was looking between them, uncertainty plainly written on his face, but then he squared his shoulders, pulled his blaster from his holster with one quick draw – and pointed it at Sky.

The bottom dropped out of Sky’s stomach, but at the same time Sky couldn’t blame him; Bridge had done what he himself would have done as well in his situation – protecting his commanding officer. No matter how onerous Laver Tarns was, he was still SPD, and SPD protected their own.

“Commander, I may not officially be back on active duty again until tomorrow, but I would still very much like to know right now what is going on here,” Bridge said without taking his eyes off Sky.

“I discovered this traitor snooping around the command center after hours trying to download classified SPD files,” Tarns informed him, his voice gaining confidence now that Bridge had his weapon pointed at Sky. “I suspect that he is either a spy or going to sell those files to the highest bidder.”

“I am neither,” Sky retorted. “And I can prove that Tarns is the traitor.” He raised his hand in a placating gesture towards Bridge. “Please, Bridge. Let me show you.”

“I wasn’t aware that we were on a first-name basis, Lieutenant.” Bridge narrowed his eyes at him, but didn’t stop him when Sky slowly and carefully kept raising his hand until he was able to reach behind his ear. He turned off the image inducer, pulled off his wig and steeled himself for the reaction.

Laver Tarns was dumbstruck, gaping at Sky with eyes that were almost comically wide. “Tate?”

Bridge had gone completely still; all the color drained from his face. He didn’t even seem to be breathing, those brown eyes Sky loved so much now looking at him with shock and disbelief.

Sky was impressed that Bridge managed to keep his blaster aimed at him.

Sky kept his own gun pointed at Tarns but risked a long, intense look at his love. “Bridge, it really is me.” His own voice sounded almost strange to him after these past few weeks.

Bridge, however, was already shaking his head. “No. This is a trick.” He was still disconcertingly pale, but his features now contorted with real anger, replacing the initial shock. “A cruel and dirty trick. Who are you, you scumbag?” he asked through gritted teeth.

“Just take the glove off and touch me, and you’ll know it’s me, Bridge.” Sky held his hand out to him.

Bridge snorted. “Do you think I’m stupid? I’m not coming any closer to you!” His eyes blazed. “You may look like Sky, but you are not Sky, I can’t feel any connection with you.”

“That’s because…..”

The commander’s booming voice reverberated through the command center. “Shoot this imposter, Casey!”

“Carson,” Bridge mumbled without taking his eyes off Sky. He raised his blaster a fraction of an inch, so that the barrel pointed directly at Sky’s chest. “You are not fooling me. Put. Down. Your. Weapon.”

“Bridge, just listen to me, please,” Sky pleaded. “We were scheduled to be married in ten days, Cruger and Jack are supposed to give speeches at the reception and we were going to go to Australia on our honeymoon…”

He paused when he saw Bridge shaking his head. “That’s all common knowledge around the base. You could have picked all that info up just about everywhere.”

True. Sky exhaled, racking his brain for something less well-known. “Ok. Back when we were roommates, you used to hide my SPD handbook, so I would play video games with you instead of reading it.”

Bridge still wasn’t swayed. “Nice try, but the whole team was in on this. You could have chatted them up and got that tidbit from any of them.”

“You have a scar on the inside of your left thigh,” Sky said, pointing to Bridge’s leg. “You told me that, when you were five, you fell out of a tree that you had climbed, and a tree branch ripped into your thigh on the way down. It needed…” Sky paused to think for a moment. “…ten stitches, I think.”

“Twelve,” Bridge said, but his voice had lost some of its hardness. Doubt was creeping into his eyes, but then he shook his head once more. “That could be in my medical file.” The Red Ranger’s blaster remained leveled on Sky’s chest. “With the right surveillance tech and some hacking skills to get into my SPD files, anything can be found out these days, traitor. Now, for the last time: put down your gun.”

Sky gritted his teeth in frustration. It was hard for him to keep his weapon and focus on Tarns while simultaneously trying to convince Bridge that he was real.

Sky’s mind was reeling. Bridge still didn’t believe him. He needed something deeper, something that was known only to them, a unique and intimate knowledge that only the two of them shared…

Sky swallowed when he realized just exactly what that was. ”You like to take the gloves off when we make love,” he began. “You say it makes you feel more connected to me, because you feel what I feel. And…” oh god, he could feel his face heating up at what he was about to say out loud in front of the traitorous commander, so he kept his eyes firmly trained on the man he loved. “…you like to put your hands against the sides of my head just before I come inside of you. You say it’s the best feeling in the world; like a mental orgasm for you at the same time as…my physical one.”

They had never talked about this outside their own bedroom, and Sky knew that Bridge knew this. Hope rose in him at the sight of Bridge’s shocked face, the recognition of the truth in his eyes. The hand that still pointed the blaster at Sky began to shake. “Oh my god…Sky!

The silence stretched out for a long moment and suddenly Tarns growled and the sound of a blaster being switched to a higher setting finally got them back to the reality of what was going on. Bridge’s blaster swung to cover Tarns as he immediately followed Sky’s lead instinctively, years of instinct kicking in.

“You’re not getting out of here alive, Tate! I won’t let you ruin everything I have worked for years for! I will kill you both!”

Sky just gave him a vicious grin. “That’s not happening. Laver Tarns, you’re under arrest for treason, falsifying reports, arranging deliberate murders of SPD officers and many, many other charges. You have the right to remain silent...” Before Sky could finish, Tarns growled again and just as he was about to pull the trigger, the blaster flew out of his hand and into the hands of the Silver Ranger, standing at the door, Z and Syd standing next to him, their own blasters drawn and pointed at Tarns.

Sky let out a breath of relief. Kat had received his distress call and sent help!

“What Commander Tate said, Tarns, you’re under arrest. And trust me, you can’t beat me, or everyone else here.”

Tarns screamed in frustration and Sky took the chance to holster his blaster and strode over to stand in front of him in two strides and with glee curled his fist and slammed it into Tarns face.

“And that, that’s for what you said to Bridge the first day you were here!” Sky stood over his sprawled body on the floor and then looked at Zhane. “He’s all yours, sir.” Zhane strode over with cuffs in his hands and grinned at Sky.

“Good hit. I’ll clean this up. Good work. I’ve let Manx and Cruger know that I’m here and things have come to a head.”

“Thank you, sir.” Zhane grinned at him as he finished cuffing Tarns and then the girls helped him to pick him up with glee.

“No, thank you, Sky.” Zhane’s expression turned serious. “I’m so sorry that you’ve both had to go through this.” Zhane gestured to the girls to take Tarns out and they left the two of them alone, both Syd and Z throwing Sky glances of pleasure to see him alive. Once the door closed Sky turned to look at Bridge, seeing the man he loved still standing there, his blaster loosely pointed at where Tarns had been standing.

Sky walked over to where he was standing and took the blaster out of his hand, putting it gently back into its holster. Bridge just kept staring at him. Slowly, every so slowly, Bridge raised his hand, taking his glove off, and gently, slowly, almost reverently, touched Sky’s face.

“It’s you, isn’t it..”

Throat too tight to speak, Sky just swallowed and nodded. Bridge ran his hand gently over Sky’s cheek. Sky suddenly felt Bridge’s mind back in his and finally, he felt whole again. Bridge felt it too, and he gasped as their suppressed mental link unfurled.  

“Oh Sky. You’re alive.” And that was too much for Bridges’ over-stressed mind and body; he wilted within Sky’s arms, completely fainting. Sky smiled gently at Bridge in his arms.

“Oh Bridge, I love you so much. I’m so sorry and I’m going to spend the rest of my life making this up to you.”

 

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

 

The fallout had been tremendous from Sky’s undercover mission and the evidence that he had gathered whilst undercover. That, plus all the evidence that Cruger and Manx had also been able to obtain, well, it’s repercussions would be felt for years. Not only was Tarns and his team arrested and sentenced, but another few dozen high-ranking Space Patrol Delta officers had been implicated as well and were also arrested. Cruger was doing a thorough clean-out of all SPD officers from all branches, all planets and every one was being looked at - no exceptions.

 With the telepathic abilities of several Independent Rangers Cruger had quickly cleared the majority of Earth's personnel and they were able to then work on other branches across the galaxy. Tangaria, Denobia and Xybria had been the first few planets to be subjected to these investigations and had uncovered several pockets of anti-human, anti-SPD sentiment, and they were able to take swift action to ensure the safety of the people and also ensure that the integrity of SPD was intact. So, the operation was more successful than even Cruger had hoped for.

 Sky had finally given all his dispositions, some while in his disguise, and he would have to give more as himself in the next few days. But now he was so happy to be back to himself finally. No more itchy wig, no more weird-feeling gem on his forehead and no more image distorter changing his look completely, no different voice; he finally felt himself again for the first time in almost three weeks.

 But there was one thing missing that would make him feel whole again.

 Bridge.

 Kat smiled gently at Sky as she handed him his commander’s uniform jacket, having finished checking him over for the last time, making sure the image device hadn’t caused any side effects and that he was okay physically. He had formally taken back command of the Earth base and things had quickly settled back into something of a routine almost immediately. The atmosphere was a very relieved one once he had taken back command, and everyone seemed to be feeling less stressed and more relaxed without Tarns in charge any more. Kat had even been able to tell Boom he could come back.

 Thanking Kat, he exited medical to find Sydney Drew, the Pink Ranger and one of his oldest friends on the planet, waiting for him with crossed arms and an angry expression. He slipped into his jacket and held up his hand to forestall the inevitable Drew explosion that he knew was coming and knew that he deserved.

 “I know exactly what you’re going to say, Syd. it’s nothing that I haven’t said to myself over these last few weeks. Trust me on that.” Syd fell into step with him, her arms still crossed. The silence stretched for a few minutes.

 “Oh I don’t doubt it, Commander. But you do realise that I do owe you some major pain in the training sims once things settle down, don’t you?” Sky gave a soft laugh and looked at her, a gentle smile on his face. He had missed their banter like that.

 “I’m looking forward to it, to be honest, Syd. It’s certainly owed and it’s certainly something I deserve.” His smile faded and he stopped, turning to face her. “Thank you.” She looked at him, confused. “For looking after him for me, for making sure he ate, and slept and just making sure he kept going. For standing up to the jerk that I had to be. And to Tarns when you had to. Thank you.” Syd gave a gentle smile and finally unfolded her arms. “For protecting him against ‘Venda’ and making sure he stayed safe.”

 “It’s okay Sky, we all did our best for him, because we care for him, for you both.” Suddenly she hit him on the arm hard. “Never do that again, Sky! Thinking you were dead was hard enough, grieving for myself but having to look after him at the same time wasn’t it. But we do what we can for those we love. So next time, someone else does it, understood?” Sky held up his hand in mock surrender.

 “Understood. I learnt a long time ago not to make you mad at me, Syd.” Suddenly he enfolded her in a hug and rested his head on top of hers. “Thank you Sydney, thank you so much.” He said softly, just for her ears only. He had a reputation to maintain after all. Syd squeezed back and after a moment they broke apart.

 “Its okay. Now go apologize to Z, because no way she is letting you past her to see Bridge until you have. And then tomorrow, the four of us go out for the day. Just us. No one else, no work, no nothing. Just us, a picnic and a long talk, okay?” Sky nodded.

 “Done deal. Tonight, tonight is for Bridge and I. I have a lot to apologize for and to make up for.” Syd nodded and he left her to it and began walking towards the old Red Ranger room where Bridge had retreated to once Tarns had been arrested and charged. Z had been standing guard over him ever since, making sure he wasn’t disturbed unless he wanted to be.

 After the revelation that Venda had been Sky all along, and Tarns was an anti-human sympathiser and had been plotting to take over the planet using SPD zords and technology, wanting to subjugate humanity as he saw them as completely inferior, it had thrown Bridge completely. The emotional shock of knowing that Sky wasn’t dead, and that he had been nearby all the time, had been too much for him.

 Even after it had been explained to Bridge by the Kerovian Silver Ranger, who had come to Earth in secret at Sky’s request a few days beforehand, ready to back him up when they went in for the arrest, that he had deliberately suppressed Sky’s mental presence so that Bridge wouldn’t sense him to ensure the missions’ success, Bridge still couldn’t get over the feeling of being betrayed by Sky, Cruger and Manx. So he had retreated to his room to try and get himself centered. To try and come to terms with what had happened.

 Sky knew that he would have a lot of explaining, apologizing and making up to Bridge to do. He had promised himself that he would spend the rest of his life making this up to Bridge, and then some. He had kept his promise to himself to slam his fist into Tarns face when they had arrested him, and boy it had felt good. He knew it was wrong but he had to do it, for all the pain this bastard had put Bridge and the others through while he had been undercover. He rounded the corner to find a pair of Z’s standing guard in front of the door and when they spotted him, their arms crossed and their expression hardened.

 “Not that it’s not great that you’re alive, Commander,” the ‘commander’ was said with a really harsh tone which Sky felt he deserved, “but you had better have a bloody good reason to make me move from this door and let you in to see him.”

 Sky moved forward to stand in front of her, pleased that this area of the base was sparsely populated at the moment. He looked at her, gave her a tiny smile and then completely out of character, reached out, grabbing both Z’s and bringing them in for a huge hug. Z was so shocked her clone disappeared and he was left hugging the original.

 “Thank you. For taking care of him, protecting him, making sure he was okay. I can never repay yours and Syd’s kindness during this time.” Z relaxed slightly and hugged him back.

 “You silly fool, of course we’d look after him. You guys are family, after all. But you’ve hurt him so badly Sky, I don’t know how he’s going to go understanding all this.” Sky sighed.

 “I know. And I know I’m going to deserve every single thing he is about to say to me, no matter how much it hurts. Because nothing can compare to what I’ve done to him.” The silence stretched out for a long moment until Z spoke again, saying the words that Sky had been dreading.

 “Was it worth it?” Sky sighed.

 “Intellectually, I know it was. But in my heart, in my heart, it wasn’t. It took a lot of convincing on Cruger’s part but in the end, it was my choice, Z. It turned out okay for the Patrol, but for us it’s going to be a long, tough road from now on. I have to regain his trust and his love. I have to prove to him that I’m worthy of his love.” Sky’s voice broke slightly. “I just hope he will forgive me, one day.” Z released him from the hug and looked at him, her eyes wise beyond her years.

 “He will, eventually. Just tell him the truth, speak from your heart, hold nothing back. If you want to make this right, you’ll have to be honest with him.” Sky nodded.

 “I know. Thanks Z. Syd says we’re all going on a picnic tomorrow, the four of us. We have a lot to talk about.” Z nodded.

 “That we do. Night, Commander.” With that, she left him to it. Sky stared at the door to Jack’s old quarters for a long time before it opened and he saw Bridge standing there.

 “Well, you’d better come in.” Bridge’s voice was devoid of emotion and Sky took a deep breath, stepping into the room. This wasn’t going to be a good, or easy, conversation.

 

TBC...

Chapter Text

The atmosphere between the two of them was thick, tense and seemingly unbroken for the longest time. Sky sat down on his old bed, Bridge sitting opposite him, and they looked at each other for the longest time. It was more than obvious that Bridge was waiting for an explanation. Finally, Sky took a deep breath and stared down at his hands as he began to speak.

 He told him everything, beginning with the clandestine meeting between him and Cruger and ending with the confrontation between him and Tarns in the command center just before Bridge had walked in on them. Bridge was silent all throughout Sky’s narration, and afterwards he quietly stared at his hands.

 “I know nothing I say is going to make a difference to the amount of pain I have caused you Bridge, and I totally understand if you never want to have anything to do with me ever again.” Sky looked down at his own hands, how they were clenched tight, his knuckles showing through the skin. “I thought long and hard about accepting that mission, Bridge, and I knew it would be hard, but I didn’t realise that amount of damage it would do to you.” Sky finally looked up at Bridge. “And I will spend the rest of my life making this up to you.”

 Bridge said nothing, just sat there, his own hands resting on his knees, and it was then that Sky noticed his gloves were off. Sky jerked his head up and looked at Bridge, surprise on his face. “Bridge, are.. Are you okay? I’m not hurting you, am I?” Sky shook his head. “I’m feeling so mixed up, upset, confused, guilty and unsure if I should even be in your life right now...” Sky made to get up and leave. “I should go, this is too much for you...”

 “Sit down.” Sky sat back down with a start. Bridge had never taken this tone with him before. He looked at Bridge with wide eyes, this was a side of his lover he hadn’t seen before. Bridge just looked at his hands for the longest time, not speaking, not moving. Sky sat back down slowly, unsure of what was going to happen. Finally, Bridge spoke and Sky’s heart broke with every word.

 “You lied to me. You didn’t trust me. You betrayed me. Yet you say you love me.” Bridge looked up finally and Sky’s heart shattered once more. “How can I trust your words now?” Sky opened his mouth to speak but Bridge held up his hand. “I can feel your love and your guilt about this mission. And I also know that, by taking on this mission, you most likely saved all of Earth. You did what none of us could do; you stopped Tarns.” Bridge somehow looked proud and sad at the same time. “But I can’t get past the fact that you excluded me from this.”

 Sky let him speak and understood his words, he knew that every single word Bridge was saying was true. He took a deep breath, his next words would have to be the honest truth and come from his heart.

 “I know. And trust me, I regret every single action I had to take. I wanted to include you, Bridge, I truly did, but the risks were too great, your reactions had to be real for everyone to buy it.” Sky looked at Bridge, his heart in his eyes. “God I am so sorry, Bridge. I can never make this up to you. I do love you, so much it hurts, and it hurt me every day to see you suffering like you did, when all I wanted to do was take you into my arms and hold you tight. To make things better, to apologize, to kiss it better, to do anything to take the hurt I’ve caused you away.”

 Bridge just looked at him, feeling the truth in his words and how much he regretted his actions. Bridge sighed and looked at Sky.

“I can feel you’re telling the truth Sky, and I believe you. I just wish that it hadn’t had to come to it is all. I’m confused and feel betrayed, but I also feel your love... I... I ... I just don’t know what to think.” Sky looked at him and suddenly, he knew if he didn’t act and follow his heart, he’d lose Bridge forever. Sky moved from the bed and knelt before Bridge, taking his hands in his own, he looked Bridge in the eyes and spoke from his heart.

 “Then don’t think, please Bridge, let me try and fix this. Let me show you my love for you.”

Bridge suddenly gripped his hands tightly and looked him in the eyes. “Sky, please help me... “

Sky swallowed hard. “Always and forever, Bridge.” Sky opened his mind to Bridge and he slowly, oh so slowly, moved his face up to Bridge’s so that they were eye to eye, and then, taking a deep breath and praying this was the right move, he slowly moved his lips towards Bridges and with all his heart and hope, he pressed his lips gently against Bridge’s, hoping that this was the right move and that he could begin to slowly repair the damage he had done.

 Their lips met in a gentle, tentative, almost chaste like kiss and for the longest moment, Sky didn’t know if this move was the right one, but it was what his heart was telling him to do. He poured his heart and soul into this gentle kiss, hoping against hope that Bridge would respond or at least not push him away. Suddenly, Bridge began to respond and pressed his lips against Sky’s and Sky could feel Bridge’s mind responding as well. Just then he found his hands freed and Bridge’s hands grabbing his coat, pulling him closer, and then Bridge’s tongue was pushing against Sky’s lips and he opened his lips in a joyful moment of feeling so connected to his lover once more.

 They kissed for a long moment, and then broke apart once the need to breathe became too important to them both. Sky rested his head against Bridge’s forehead.

“Oh how I’ve missed that, and you. Oh god, I love you so much, Bridge.”

Bridge was silent for a long moment and then spoke softly. “And I’ve missed this, and you as well. I do love you Sky, so much.” They sat there for a long time and suddenly Bridge jerked his head up. “Marry me. Now.”

Sky looked at him, startled. “What?”

Bridge looked at him, suddenly putting his hands on Sky’s face, staring him hard in the eyes, his own full of sudden hope and love. “Marry me. Now. I don’t want to be apart from you any more. You’re the base commander, you can marry us, here and now. That is, if you still want me?”

Sky looked at him and reached up, putting his hands over Bridge’s and his smile was wide and his eyes bright. “More than anything in the world, Bridge. But what about our wedding? We have to re-book everything and...”

Bridge shook his head as he smiled gently. “It’s all still booked, I couldn’t bring myself to cancel anything yet.”

Sky looked at him and suddenly laughed softly. “So, we can still have that ceremony and stuff, but do it now, just for you and me?” Bridge nodded.

Sky smiled and quickly kissed Bridge, his smile lighting up his face. “Oh god, that is such a yes from me.” Sky pulled Bridge to his feet and took his hands in his. Facing each other, holding hands, they stared at each other, deep into each others’ eyes. Taking a deep breath, Sky stared at Bridge and then began speaking, his tone loving, strong and firm, yet if you listened carefully you could hear hints of nervousness.

 “Do you, Bridge Carson, take me, Schuyler Tate, to be your loving husband? To correct me when I’m wrong, to make me realise how lucky I am to have you in my life, to stand by me when I’m being an idiot, to put up with my temper, to make sure I see all sides of everything,   to help me love you more and more each day, to live with me and be happy together, for the rest of our lives?” Bridge smiled and Sky’s heart soared.

 “I do. And do you, Schuyler Tate, take me, Bridge Carson, to be your husband? To put up with me when things get too overwhelming for me, to listen to me ramble and make me piles of buttery toast when I need it, to hold me when I get nightmares, to love me forever and never leave me again?”

 “I do.” They had no rings, so Sky brought Bridge’s left hand to his lips and placed a kiss on his ring finger, just below the first knuckle, where the actual ring would be soon. Bridge smiled and copied the gesture. Then they leaned in and shared a kiss, searing, passionate and desperate in their love for each other. Within moments their arms were around each other and their bodies pressed against each other hard. Soon, their desire for each other was very evident by the bulges in their trousers and Bridge pulled Sky backwards and they tumbled onto his bed, arms and legs wrapping around each other instinctively. Sky broke the kiss and looked at Bridge. “I love you, Bridge Carson. More than my life itself.” Bridge’s smile was all that Sky needed to see.

 “And I you. Make love to me Sky, make me yours again, and again, as much as we can both take.”

Sky gave a soft chuckle. “Yes sir.” And Sky kissed him again, this time, more serious, more passionate and more intense. Bridge returned the kiss in spades, their bodies slowly becoming one as their minds did as well.

 

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

 

Syd and Z were sitting in the common room, in civilian clothes, a basket between them, as the door opened and Bridge and Sky walked in, hand in hand. The air between them seemed so much lighter, and they both seemed to be glowing with happiness. Syd and Z exchanged knowing glances, somehow knowing that things had gone well. The two men walked over to them, giving them both a smile.

“Good morning.” Z’s grin was wicked as she answered Sky.

 “And good morning to you too. And obviously, a good night by the looks of those grins.” They both blushed adorably in sync and the two girls burst out laughing. Syd stood up, picking up the basket.

 “And that’s all we need to know about that. Come on, it’s a beautiful day, and we don’t want to waste a minute of it.”

Sky’s grin was wide. “Yes ma’am.” Laughing, the four Rangers headed out of the base, knowing that today was for them, and that things were slowly getting back to normal again for them all. It would take time for things to go back to where they had been before this mission, but that’s what today was for, to start the process for them all to get back to a normal state - for them anyways.

 

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

 

A couple of days had passed and Cruger was on Earth to finalise all the extradition for Tarns and his cronies. He was in an office near the main control room when Bridge knocked on the door. Then, in two days’ time, he also had the pleasure to conduct the wedding ceremony for Sky and Bridge.

 “Sir, it’s Ranger Carson, may I come in?” Cruger looked up and nodded as he spoke.

 “Come in, Carson.” Bridge came in, the door closing behind him and stood before Cruger, silence stretching for a few moments. “What can I help you with today, Ranger Carson?” Bridge took a deep breath, Sky didn’t know he was here, or what he was about to do. In fact, Bridge wasn’t sure himself what he was going to say.

 “I need to talk to you sir, about what happened.”

Cruger sighed, he wasn’t sure what Carson was going to say, Bridge was a hard person to read sometimes, even though he wore his emotions on his sleeve most of the time. “I thought you might. Do you have an issue with the way the mission was carried out or in its planning or execution?”

Bridge took a deep breath. “Yes sir, quite a bit actually.” Bridge clasped his hands in front of him. “The fact that you thought that I couldn’t assist in this mission, that it was necessary to make Sky go through all of that pain and sacrifice, without having any consideration of his feelings, what problems it might cause for not only him, but the other Rangers and personal here on Earth base, smacks of inconsideration on your part, which I know you wouldn’t do. And I know that you would have thought this through, so I have one question for you. Why the hell did you do this to us?” The last bit was spat out between clenched teeth, the anger in his voice startled him a bit.

 Cruger sat back, stunned by the vehemence in Bridge’s words. He knew that he would have to try and make Bridge understand, but he wasn’t sure he appreciated the way Bridge was going about it.

 “You understand the reasons behind the mission, and why I choose this timing, I’ve already explained this to you. As for why I choose Sky for the mission, well, that was my prerogative, he was the only high level person in a command position that I actually knew I could trust to carry out this mission.”

 “And excluding me?” Bridge’s tone was hard.

 “That…well that was a hard decision, but I felt that it would be a better performance on your part and more believable for Tarns to accept his post and incriminate himself if you were genuinely upset and believed that Commander Tate was really gone.”

 Bridge took a step towards Cruger and practically growled out the next words.

“Sir, do you have any idea what that did to me? I was ready to end it all, because I can’t go on living without him. I was that close, but the only damn thing that stopped me was the sense of duty that you pounded in to us.” Bridge stopped and took a deep breath. “Sir, intellectually I understand why you did what you did, but I won’t forgive you for it, not for a while yet. Thank you for hearing me out.”

 With that, Bridge turned and went to leave.

“Carson,” Bridge paused but didn’t turn around. “I’m sorry, but it was the only way. If there was another one, I couldn’t see it.”

 “I understand sir, doesn’t mean that I approve of your methods. I will see you at the ceremony tomorrow sir.” With that, Bridge was gone. Doggie Cruger watched him go and out of the shadows Kat stepped towards him, concern on her face.

“Are you alright?”

 “Yes, he was right you know, I should have taken different actions. But the end justifies the means, that is what I have to keep telling myself.” Cruger sighed softly. “But in the end, eventually, I hope that they will forgive me.” Kat put her hand on his shoulder and nodded slowly.

“They will, eventually.”

 

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

 

The wedding ceremony was scheduled to take place in the gardens on the grounds of SPD. Syd had taken over the decorating of the area where the ceremony was to take place and had gone all out, but in a tasteful, understated way that suited both men down to the ground. The colours were reflective of the two rangers - blues, greens, reds and silver - were scattered around with plenty of ribbons, flowers and streamers, but tastefully done.

 Commander Cuger was standing at the head of the walkway, in his dress uniform. His wife was off to one side, with Kat and Boom standing next to her. The other Rangers were waiting as well, including Jack and Ally. Sky’s mother was standing next to his sister, a wide smile on her face as she saw her son standing in front of Cruger. Bridge’s family was there was well, although they seemed a bit more reserved and shy around so many different people.

 Just then, the music started playing - thanks to RIC - and Bridge began to walk down the aisle. He, like Sky, was in his dress uniform and walked forward holding just a single blue rose in his hand. His eyes were fixed on Sky in front of him and Sky’s were on him. He reached Sky’s side and took his hand in his.

 Clearing his throat, Cruger began to speak, but Sky and Bridge didn’t even seem to hear him as he spoke. Eventually he got to the spot where they said there ‘I do’s’ which they quickly repeated to each other. Their eyes, their entire beings, were so focussed on each other. Eventually Cruger managed to get their attention enough to say the words they were waiting for.

 “I now pronounce you married. Congratulations. You may kiss each other.” Sky grinned and pulled Bridge in close. Their lips met and cheers erupted all around them. Finally, they broke apart and laughing, they faced their families. “Ladies and Gentleman, I am proud beyond belief to present you Bridge and Sky Tate.”

Confetti, flowers, streamers and everything in between was thrown at them as they walked down the aisle, laughing at how much love they were being shown by their friends and families. Running they headed towards the marquis that had been set up for their reception. Laughing as they tried to brush the confetti out of their hair, they walked in to the marquis followed by everyone else.

Bridge turned to his husband, smiling widely, the pain of recent weeks forgotten in the joyous union of their marriage finally having occurred. Bridge took Sky’s hands in his and smiled widely at him.

“I love you, Sky Tate.” Sky smiled back at him.

“I love you, Bridge Tate.” Sky gently pulled him close and kissed him gently, showing how much he loved and cared for the man in his arms. And in this moment, this one point in time, everything was perfect.


Epilogue

‘Déjà vu is a weird feeling,’ Bridge thought as he stood once again at the apartment’s sliding glass door and took in the same view of the park he had looked at less than a week ago. Back then the park had looked grey and forlorn to his suicidal mind, but now the place was once again awash in color and life. Bridge let out a relieved sigh; it would take some more time, but the hole in his heart was healing steadily, his life had purpose again, there was a ring on his finger and the man who put it there was asleep on the inflatable mattress behind him.

Or maybe not quite asleep any more, since a moment later, two strong arms wrapped around him from behind and Sky propped his chin onto Bridge’s left shoulder. “What’re you looking at?”

Bridge leaned back into the embrace, but kept his eyes straight ahead. “The future.”

“And how is that looking?” Sky asked softly, a touch of uncertainty in his voice.

“Provided that you never die on me again, it’s looking pretty good.”

There was a moment of silence before Sky turned his head and placed a kiss into the junction between Bridge’s neck and shoulder. “I promise to do my best to grow old and decrepit with you,” he whispered into Bridge’s skin and the Red Ranger shuddered with pleasure at the sensation.

“All I can ask for,” he said quietly, settled further into Sky’s embrace, relishing his husband’s warmth, and together the two men watched the sun come up over the treetops in the park.

“You know,” Sky murmured a few minutes later, “since the day has just begun…”

“Uh huh…”

“…and since there is nowhere we have to be today and nothing we need to do…”

Sensing where this was going, but deciding to humor his partner nonetheless, Bridge shifted within Sky’s embrace until they were face to face. “Your orders, Commander?” he inquired with a playful smile.

“I order you back to bed, Ranger.”

Bridge’s grin stretched wider and he kissed Sky thoroughly before he let himself be pulled back towards their bed. With Sky now both his husband and his commanding officer, they were bound to clash about orders at some point in the future, but right now this particular command he was more than happy to obey.

 

THE END