Sage stood outside the door to the Queen's chamber. It had been difficult to get this audience and from what he'd heard, it was going to be even harder getting out. The door opened and Sage nearly jumped through the ceiling. A faceless guard beckoned him in. Sage quickly looked down at himself, an old child hood habit of making sure he was presentable.
The Queen frowned down at him.
"What do you want?" Sage coughed and shuffled on his feet nervously before answering.
"I've been told that you want the Galaxy Rangers put out of commission."
"I have tried many ways of eliminating them and none have succeeded, what makes you think your idea will be successful?"
Sage set down the case he was carrying and bent over to open it. Instantly the guards readied their guns. The object he took out of the case was a metal cube with a lot of buttons on it.
"It's a fear inducer." He said by way of explanation. "Everybody has a fear. All my machine does is take that fear and expand upon it. For example if you have a fear of snakes, the fear inducer creates an almost real illusion of a room filled with snakes. This eventually causes the "victim" to go mad unless they fight the fear or convince themselves it's unreal. Leaving the rangers vulnerable for your guards to capture them. It’s virtually fool proof."
"Can you prove it works?"
"Not without affecting you your majesty, might I suggest using the rangers as a demonstration."
"If this idea doesn't work then you shall end up in the psychocrypt."
"Co-ordinates set, ready for the jump into hyperspace Goose." Alma's sexy voice filled the cockpit of Goose’s small interceptor.
"Do it Alma." He braced himself for the small jolt as he entered hyperspace. When that didn't happen he was slightly surprised.
"Alma? Are we in hyperspace?"
"Hyperdrive is offline Goose." He put his head in his hands.
"Where's Ranger 1?"
"They're in hyperspace, would you like me to contact them?"
"Yes, tell them I have drive trouble and am heading back to BETA Mountain."
"Set a course for home."
"Confirmed Goose." He sighed and headed back to home.
"Captain, I'm receiving a message from Gooseman."
"What does it say Niko?"
"He’s got drive trouble and is heading back to BETA Mountain, he'll join us as soon as possible."
"Okay. We should be arriving at Magnox soon."
Goose was in and out of the mountain within a matter of hours, they just put him in another interceptor and told him to catch up with Ranger 1. No one told him why the drive had failed, Goose just forgot about it.
When he got to Magnox the others were waiting for him, "At least you didn't crash it this time my Gooseman."
"Very funny Doc!" Goose shoved his hat on his head and mounted his horse.
"I must say, it's very unusual for a drive to fail, did they say what caused it."
"Not to me Zach."
The town was deserted, the four Rangers looked down the empty main street and listened to the bang of an unfixed shutter banging in the breeze.
"Hello!" Goose yelled, "Anybody here?" they all waited anxiously for an answer, none came.
"We'd better head back to the ships." Zach said, then he noticed that his team mates had vanished.
"Niko, Doc, Zach, Where are you?" Goose couldn't see anything, one minute he was stood next to Niko and the next he was here. Not a sound could be heard and it was oppressive. The silence became a noise loud enough to shatter his eardrums.
"Shane." He spun in the direction of the voice. "Shane." He spun around again. He recognised the voice without a doubt as belonging to Darkstar. "Darkstar, where are you?" he asked the darkness.
"Behind you Shane." He spun round yet again. This time he came face to face with Darkstar. They looked at each other for a moment, then Darkstar punched him. Goose staggered back a few paces rubbing his jaw, "What the hell was that for?"
"It's your fault all of our old friends are frozen, it's your fault that I have to live like a criminal, Stingray and I are always looking over our shoulders trying to escape capture and it’s your fault that I’m with Stingray. If you hadn’t been such a coward and you'd told me how you felt. I would have stayed with you and I wouldn't be living on the run like a common criminal."
"NO!" Shane yelled, "IT IS NOT MY FAULT! IT IS NOT MY FAULT!" he desperately tried to ignore the voice in his head that was saying: "She's right, it's all your fault, you betrayed your friends and now they're as good as dead. What about your friends now, they don't know about that, if they did, would they still trust you. Would they worry that you’d do the same to them. Turn them in to the enemy so you could survive?"
Darkstar vanished leaving Shane alone in the blackness with only his thoughts for company. He sat on the floor and began to cry softly. Muttering "my fault" over and over again.
Niko walked three times around the large glass room, it curved round to a dome high above her. The curve of the glass distorted her view of what was outside.
"What am I doing here?" she yelled, not really expecting an answer, this mission had been all too strange for her liking, Goose's hyperdrive not engaging a deserted town and now this! She walked back to the centre of the room. There was a pile of sand on the floor. Niko crouched down to look at it. In that instant, Niko knew exactly where she was. She took a step back and watched as the pile of sand grew bigger and bigger. A steady stream of sand fell from the apex of the dome.
Zach opened his eyes slowly, he had a blinding pain in his head and the bright light shining in his eyes wasn’t helping.
"He's waking up." He heard someone call. He tried to sit up but his body felt alien. Zach recognised Q-Balls voice.
"How are you feeling Captain Foxx?"
"Awful." He mumbled in reply. "Why am I here?" Q Ball paused before answering, "When you were on Magnox there was a massive explosion. You were badly injured and I'm afraid that we had to replace most of your body with bionics."
"I'm sorry Captain Foxx." Zach heard his retreating footsteps and the door close behind him. Zach lifted his head a couple of inches so he could survey the damage, around ¾ of his body was covered in the black and gold material that had previously been just on his left arm and leg. He blacked out.
Doc looked around him trying to figure out what was happening. He spotted Goose and Niko and went over to join them. He heard their conversation before he got to them. Niko had tear stains on her face and Goose was holding her in his arms comforting her.
"I can't believe he's gone," She sobbed.
"I know Niko, I know." Goose soothed in a slightly choked voice while stroking her hair. Doc thought better of disturbing them and tried to find Zach, he was stood next to Commander Walsh. Zach’s face was set as if it was made of stone, Walsh looked stressed.
"What's happened Zach?" Doc asked, but Zach just ignored him. "Zach can you hear me?" still no answer, he walked over to a stand with a microphone.
"Friends, we're here to remember a great man, Walter 'Doc' Hartford..." Doc did a double take at hearing this, he wasn't dead he was standing right here. He noticed a coffin near the front of the room and he discreetly made his way over to it. His own body was in the coffin, Doc squeezed his eyes shut in disbelief. He was at his own funeral.
Niko sat with her back pressing against the glass. Her knees tucked underneath her chin. The sand was slowly advancing on her. Her knuckles were white where her fists were so tightly clenched. Niko just stared transfixed at the sand rushing to bury her alive.
Zach lay on his back staring up at the ceiling lost in his thoughts and hardly even noticed when Q-ball walked back into the room and started fiddling with a control panel by his side. "Okay Captain Foxx, you should be able to sit up now." Zach sat up and looked around the bland medical unit. "Where are my team?" Q-ball looked downright uncomfortable, "I'm sorry, all but Ranger Niko were dead upon arrival." "What's happened to Niko?"
"She passed away not more than half an hour ago. Her psychic shields protected you and her from the majority of the debris. Ranger's Hartford and Gooseman were to far away for the shield to protect them." Zach lay back down again and closed his eyes, this was like a bad nightmare and all Zach wanted was for it to end.
The sand was up to Niko's ankles when she finally stood up. "I refuse to die scared." She yelled up at the roof. She activated her implant and sent a jolt of energy into the glass sides. She was slightly disappointed that nothing happened but she felt a lot more positive than she did before. She started to move all the sand to one side of the chamber. At least she'd go trying.
Even now you're a coward, sat there crying. I thought that you were past all that, someone knocks you down, you knock them down, that's what you were taught isn't it? And yet you're sat here feeling sorry for yourself.
The voice in Shane's head was right, he stood up and looked at his surroundings. Little had changed in the time he'd been there. He wondered where the others were.
When Doc opened his eyes again, people had started to mill around the coffin. Two people in particular caught his eye, "Maria!" he exclaimed. The young woman looked up and around slightly startled, she shrugged her shoulders. The small boy hanging onto her arm pressed himself even further into her into her leg, "Don't like it here mummy." He sulked. Maria lifted him up and sat him on her hip.
"I know love, mummy's just got to say goodbye to an old friend." She bent over the coffin and kissed his cheek, "Goodbye Walt, I never forgot you and I never will." She whispered and turned away, she melted into the mass of people heading for the door. The small child was a spitting image of Doc at the age of three. Doc idly wondered if the kid knew that the man in the coffin was his father. Probably not he mused and instantly regretted the fact he'd been accepted as a Galaxy ranger. Damn his parents he thought to himself, he'd only applied to the academy to piss his parents off. Ruefully he managed a faint smile, he could almost hear his parent's voices. "When you have finished at Charm School you will be ideally placed for a job in the diplomatic corps. Then you won't have time to tinker around with your 'computers'." Their expressions when he told them he'd applied to become a galaxy ranger, was permanently imprinted on his mind. Only rivalled by the expression on his own face when Maria told him he was going to be a father. That week almost four years ago had been a pivotal point in his life. He was broke, freaking out and totally without the support of his parents, his only option was to go to the academy. Maria left him and never contacted him again except to send the occasional photo of his son.
Goose had found nothing of any real use in the infinite blackness that surrounded him. It wasn't long before Darkstar reappeared. The two Supertroopers just stood facing each other, "Okay, maybe your situation is my fault, the others are in the freezer because of me and maybe I am a coward, but one thing I know sure as hell is that you are NOT Darkstar." As soon as he said those words, the blackness melted away and he was back on Magnox.
He slowly rose from the ground, his team mates were all there but in some kind of coma he supposed. A wailing noise above his head alerted him to the fact that ship was landing nearby. He squinted against the sun and found an identifying mark on the ship, "Shit," he muttered as the Crown ship gracefully touched down.
This part is set several days later, Goose managed to get the others back to the ship, Niko woke up and used her psychic powers to revive Doc, Zach however couldn't be revived because he believed to strongly in the illusion. My apologies for doing this, but I tried four different approaches to writing that segment and it wouldn't work.