Return of the Demon
Return of the Demon
Or "101 Ways to Destroy Weiner's Property!"
Florida's western coast in late July came straight out of a picture postcard. The pitch-black evening sky was pierced by a bright meteor shower. The "shooting stars" left bright trails of light as they skimmed over the horizon. Meteors, stars, and the bright moon combined to cast a strong light over the landscape. Strong breezes from the Gulf of Mexico cooled the white beaches, forested land, and populated areas. Many natives and tourists took full advantage of the pleasant conditions by shopping, swimming, and/or walking.
However, some took no notice of the pristine night. Within a dominating, white Romanesque villa, a terrifying scene unfolded...
The cavernous living room was totally curtained off with heavy silver-gray drapes, with no hint of the outside world intruding through them. Four teenagers, dressed like 22nd century rockers, scrabbled to prepare for their new music video. The young woman with a purple-slashed eye and teased red hair ordered the others around until everything was done to her satisfaction. Walls were covered by black cloth edged with red flames, a circle of pure white salt was poured in the center of the room, and an ancient-looking tome was placed on a high, pitted wooden pedestal facing the circle from the south.
"You sure this'll work, man?" a young man with long brown hair asked in a whiny voice.
"Trust me!" she responded in a harsh, youthful tone, looking confidently at the others. "That 'Tortuna Rock' video made us stars! What better way to follow it up than by doing the impossible: summoning demons to do our bidding!"
"And your dad won't mind us buying all this fancy holographic equipment to make it look real?" the blond guy asked.
"Naaah! 'Long as I don't publicly embarrass him, Senator Wheiner's wayward daughter can spend his money however she wants!" she replied, winking. "Now, let's test the equipment..." After everything checked out, they got into their costumes and positions. "Hit it, boys!"
Beams of dazzling white and blood-red light pierced the oppressive darkness. After shooting in random directions, they focused in on the salt circle.
The band began playing an ominous technobeat with lots of deep drumming and keyboard bursting. Dressed in pea soup green robes topped with pumpkin masks, they stayed in the corner next to the recording devices.
Eve Wheiner, parading around in a tight red leather suit complete with horns, three-inch heels, and long black cape, started to sing/chant as she danced around the circle. After the first four verses, she pressed two knuckle-buttons on her gloves using her thumb. Gargoyle-like demons appeared around her, their images automatically following her lead.
After a few practice sessions, they had gotten the routine down pat.
"Okay, guys, great job," Eve praised. "We'll do the real thing right now and transmit it to our vid manager at the same time! He's gonna flip over this!"
The last member of the band was understandably nervous. "That b-book is a fake... r-r-right?!" he stammered in a shaking voice, pointing at the tome with an unsteady hand.
"Of COURSE it is!" she reassured him, placing a hand on his shoulder and crossing her fingers behind his back. "Let's make music history!"
The cameras rolled, the band played, and Eve and the holograms did their thing.
At the height of her performance, she got an inspiration after jumping up on the podium: read a spell from the book as part of the song! She opened the tome and came to a page that showed a fairly recent drawing of a large, fat, stupid-looking purple-and-green dinosaur on it. *This looks harmless enough!* Eve mentally sneered. She raised her arms and chanted:
From times not far away,
When the flashing screen dominated most,
You controlled the young minds,
Dooming the others to roast!
Come up, come out, come forth,
O Monstrous Demon of the Abyss,
Enslave the human race again,
And remember -- we control you with THIS! <She held the Tome up.>
These dread words do seal the pact:
I love you -- you love me!
I love you -- you love me!
I LOVE YOU -- YOU LOVE ME!
Eve completed the rhyme with a flourish, then staggered back as noxious, oily black smoke filled the inside of the circle. The effect stretched to the ceiling before shrinking down to solidify into a seated, two-foot tall form. Once it was complete, the band members cracked up:
"I don't believe it -- a freakin' purple dino doll!"
"Wha-ha-haaaaaaa! Check out that cheesy grin, man!"
">Choke< Grrrreat special effect, Eve!"
She was visibly shaken. "Um, I didn't plan for that, guys."=20
They stared at her in disbelief, then all moved forward to bet a better look. The "doll's" beady eyes opened and blinked rapidly, then narrowed at the group. He jumped up and waddled towards them. With a malicious grin, he chirped "Hello! Would you like to be my friend?"
"Whoaaaa! It talks!" Eve shrieked, falling back in shock. Her foot slid out in front of her to slice neatly through the circle. Too late, she remembered _that_ was the only thing keeping the demon at bay.
Barney stomped forward, breaking though the gap to corner the terrified band. Feeding off their fear, he shot up to stand at six feet tall! "After so long -- a captive audience!" he taunted. Staring at them, he started singing "I love you -- you love me! I love you -- you love me!" several times in an annoying, mocking, nails-on-blackboard voice.
They screamed and fall comatose to the ground.
He snorted in contempt, stepping on two of the guys as he crept toward the curtains. Ripping them away, the monster saw an absolutely delicious sight: oodles and oodles of children playing on the nearby public beach! Roaring in triumph, he crashed though the window and bounced off the sand dunes to get them...
The camera ended the recording. A blinking message on its lens stated "Transmitted to Tri-D Video."
B.E.T.A. Mountain stood as a fortress against all threats. A deep indigo-blue night sky, still streaked with the vivid colors of sunset, revealed billions of twinkling stars and a near-Full Moon washing their lights over the peak. Both natural landscape and technological marvel, rectangular red gouges cut into its sides gave way to lights, rooms, and docking bays.
The Galaxy Rangers were enjoying some time off. Zach and his children were in the Rec Room, grinning at Buzzwang's latest dance steps. Niko sharpened her FarSight skills on some old artifacts. Goose indulged in target practice on the range. Doc created and modified some new Tweakers. All seemed peaceful and quiet -- an unusual thing.
Taking a break, Niko walked to one of the observation platforms. Breathing deeply, she smiled happily as the strong wind rejuvenated her. Her mental powers had grown stronger of late, and this was the first opportunity she had gotten to test them. She had been focusing on specific objects' pasts all afternoon; now she wanted to try expanding her awareness to cover the general area around her. Sitting cross-legged and entering a trance, she stretched her psychic senses outwards as a bright yellow aura enveloped her body.
Suddenly, she gasped as an evil purple presence pushed itself into her thoughts. Her mind was being engulfed by a suffocating darkness. A soft-faced dinosaur head cheesily grinned in the center of the howling black whirlpool. Trying to dominate her, he cruelly chanted, *I love you -- you love me! I love you -- you love...*
"*GET OUT!!!!!*" Niko telepathically and physically shouted back at it. With all her strength, she kicked the disgusting demon far, far out of her head. After her eyes snapped open, a page from Commander Walsh ordered the Series 5 team to his office -- on the double!
Screens shut off, then turned back on as the Rangers ran through the corridors. When they filed in, Niko waved off the questioning glances raised by her angry, flushed expression. Standing at attention before the desk, they saw Walsh looking grimmer than usual.
"Rangers, as of 2000 hours our time Earth is under a mandatory communications blackout. Here's why," he said, pressing some buttons on his desk.
The left viewscreen activated, displaying specially filtered news footage both cute and terrifying: a twelve-foot tall purple-and-green dinosaur frolicked on a white sand beach with hordes of glassy-eyed toddlers, children, and young teens following him; everyone else was sprawled unconscious on the surrounding land.
The male Series Fives did the only logical thing possible.
They burst out laughing.
Zach fought to keep a straight face, Goose looked very amused, and Doc wiped his eyes as he leaned heavily against Walsh's desk.
Only Niko remained quiet, staring at the hideous purple image in stunned recognition.
"What happened, sir -- some kid's birthday party get out of hand?" Doc snickered.
"I just fought off that thing!" Niko exclaimed, her eyes glued to the screen. As the others' immediately serious expressions, she described the battle between her and the demon on the psychic plane.
"Remind me to NEVER tick _you_ off," Doc murmured in a respectful tone.
"When this appeared on the news and entertainment channels across the planet, we immediately clamped down on it," Walsh explained. "Millions of children are now hypnotized while adults have been knocked out in scores. Rescue teams are spreading out, trying to help them, but there's just too many people affected. Your mission, Rangers, is to stop Barney before he gets strong enough to mentally command those kids!"
"Swell," Goose frowned, turning slightly while jabbing a thumb at the screen. "So how come _our_ brains haven't turned to mush while watching this?!"
"Q-Ball has come up with some hypnosis-proof filters for the viewscreens, but it'll take time to install them all over the planet," Walsh gravely replied.
Zach stared at the scenes with a deep frown. "Wait a minute -- the kids and Buzz were changing channels when I stepped out for a bit..." He trailed off, eyes widening as he got a horrified look on his face. "Commander, can you...?"
Walsh was already transferring the Rec Room's camera feed to the viewscreen. The picture sharpened to reveal Jessi and Buzz sitting in front of the Tri-D, staring at the blank screen like zombies. Little Zach was unconsciously sprawled out on a nearby chair. The Commander ordered medics to get in there and help them.
Zach watched the activity with a dark, angry look on his face. *This just got personal...* he silently fumed, fists clenched tightly.
Niko reached over to touch his tense arm. "Don't worry, Zachary -- the doctors will do all they can to help them."
He calmed himself in a second, but the fury remained in his eyes.
"Your mission, Rangers, is to stop this menace. To that end, Captain Foxx, your team has been authorized to act under the Omega Initiative: use any and all means to accomplish your objective. We have historical records chronicling the previous appearances of this creature."
News coverage and Internet pages flashed on the screen, showing Barney's frightening rise to power as a television host in the 1990s before being blasted back into the Nether-Region courtesy of the Real Ghostbusters. Subsequent attempts by him to get re-established in the entertainment business only got him exiled every time. The most recent encounter showed the entire C.O.P.S. team fighting the monster in Empire City fifteen years ago. All of these battles revealed that one-on-one fights, which weakened him when other people attacked from a distance, distracted Barney long enough to be blown to smithereens by a HUGE blast of energy. (Destruction of his physical form meant his spirit was automatically banished back to the Nether-Region until he either got enough power to break loose or was summoned by an outside force.) The images ended with the Tri-D Video footage.
"As you can see, the monster has two known weaknesses: he burns up energy at a high rate and can be taken out by a powerful energy discharge that's beyond his ability to absorb," Walsh pointed out.
Goose whirled around to glare at him. Gesturing at the screen, he snapped "So how do we stop him _this_ time -- ram Ranger one down his throat and detonate the hyperdrive?!"
"Zachary's Thunderbolt should do the job, _if_ he builds the charge to critical overload." He shot a grave look at the Captain. "There IS a danger -- with that much power, there's a very good chance your bionics and nervous system will burn out as well."
The other Rangers were about to protest, but Zach held up a hand to silence them. "Fine, sir."
The Commander nodded, then fixed his gaze on the whole group. "You'll recharge now with the maximum amount of energy your badges can hold, then pick up some special equipment and head out. Time is of the essence, Rangers; if he isn't stopped here, _billions_ more will fall under his evil influence. If that happens, then nothing short of a nuclear attack will stop him! The location is Senator Wheiner's villa in Florida..."
Everyone stopped dead at this.
"You mean we get to wreck his HOUSE?!" Goose asked with a deadly, delighted grin on his face.
The others visibly cheered up as well.
"_Only_ if the situation calls for it," Walsh sternly replied with amused eyes. "Remember: stop Barney by any and all means necessary! Good luck, team."
Ranger One screamed through the atmosphere, shooting through time zones on its way to Florida's Gulf Coast. Inside, the team checked over their equipment while memorizing the villa's layout and surrounding terrain on GV's front monitor. The filtered satellite camera feed was displayed on another screen off to the left; it showed Barney stomping back inside the villa after draining all the children's energies.
"All right, here's the plan," Zach started. "We'll land on the outskirts of town and ride in on the cybersteeds. Niko, you'll throw up a shield to protect us from detection. Doc, when we get there you'll override the computer controls and seal off the place to prevent any escapes. While we fight Barney, the local authorities will rescue the victims. We'll keep him confused by taunting him one at a time while covering each other. I'll take him out after he's softened up enough. Niko, if that spellbook's still intact look in it to see if there's another way to banish him. Any questions?"
"Yeah -- why wasn't I warned about stuff like this BEFORE signing the dotted line?" Doc quipped. He shrugged and raised his eyebrows in feigned surprise.
The other Rangers chuckled, and even Zach smiled briefly before turning serious again. "Okay, let's notify the rescue teams and prepare for landing. Remember to put in your hypnosis-proof earplugs and bring along extra weapons, grenades, and ammo."
They armed themselves to the teeth as Ranger One dropped through the thickening cloud cover, landing behind some peaks outside the town. As they rode off, Niko touched her badge and blanketed everyone with a gold "masking" shield. They traveled down unnaturally quiet streets, passing dozens of collapsed people who were felled by the demon's malevolent singing.
At a gesture from Zach, the rescue teams followed them in. As they did so, groups started peeling off to help nearby victims.
"Hey, Niko -- your abilities would've been _mighty_ handy for some of the fraternity pranks I pulled in college!" Doc said.
Niko gave him a wry look, but it was Goose who answered with a shocked look and sarcastic tone. "I'm surprised, Doc! Don't tell me you didn't cause enough damage on your OWN?!"
Zach slashed a hand across his throat, warning them to be quiet as they turned onto the street leading to Wheiner's place.
Doc choked and clamped a hand over his mouth to hold in the laughter. His dark eyes promised Goose a witty response later.
Scores of children and teens surrounded the villa, all deep in an enchanted sleep. The Rangers tried to revive a few with no luck, then let the authorities take them away. Looking warily around for traps, the team walked up to a side entrance.
Doc tapped his badge, activating the implant to summon tweakers out of his CDU. "Tripwire, Pathfinder, front and center!"
The respective red star and blue ball zipped out of the revolving holographic diamond to hover before his face.
"What do you need, Doc?" Tripwire asked.
"Open the door, then seal the place when we're inside. Keep everything locked down and don't activate the force fields at Barney's location until we can attack."
"We're on it!" Pathfinder cheerfully exclaimed.
The tweakers merged with the door's black control panel.
Barely five seconds later, the entrance silently opened. After the team ducked in, it closed once more.
"Good work, fellas," Doc whispered proudly.
The Rangers found themselves in a dimly-lit storeroom, surrounded by dusty racks of centuries-old wines. Goose almost sneezed several times as they passed though it. The team warily walked down corridors leading to the main areas, senses and trigger-fingers on full alert. They faintly heard singing, so they followed it down a hallway covered with expensive paintings and rare tapestries. After passing by several closed doors and a modern-looking study, the kitchen appeared before them. The Rangers sneaked through the room to come up on either side of a closed door. They peeked through the glass to witness a most curious sight: Barney skipped around the room, singing his head off as he munched on the tome's last pages, while a motley-costumed rock group cowered in the far corner.
The devil in the red outfit rose up in anger. "You can't hold us here!"
Barney skewered Eve Wheiner with a ferocious glance, then knocked her out with a telepathic bolt.
"Ready, everyone?" Zach whispered. The others nodded.
As one, the Rangers charged through the door and aimed their weapons at the creature. Seconds after they barged in, sparking white force-fields blocked off the living room windows.
"Ah, lookie here -- more new friends to play with! Whoo-hoo-hoo!"
"Your reign of terror's over -- give it up!" Zach ordered.
"If you insist, Mon Capitane!" Barney opened his mouth wide to exhale a burst of pure sonic energy at the Rangers. Zach and Goose leaped to one side while Niko and Doc went the other way.
"Fan out and keep moving!" Zach shouted.
Barney began to chant in his syrupy-sweet voice "I love you -- you love me..."
"EAT BLASTER, YA PURPLE CREEP!!!!!" Goose yelled back, shooting him hundreds of times per minute.
The demon sang his annoying songs, then frowned severely because they had no effect on the Rangers.
Doc, Goose, and Zach slowly circled around him, keeping their distance as they fired like there was no tomorrow.
Niko ran over to defend the band, positioning herself in front of them. She grabbed at the remnants of the tome. After a cursory glance, she dropped it; the index wasn't much help without the other pages. Joining the firefight, she got in some good strikes on the monster's head and neck.
Gobs of sticky purple protoplasm dripped onto the cedar-paneled floor with each hit the team scored.
"Hey, Barney," Doc shouted, "your momma was so fat she caused the extinction of the dinosaurs when she fell down!"
The creature focused in on him. "You sound sooooooo angry, Wally; you need a hug!" Moving faster than his five-ton bulk implied, Barney lunged at his intended victim.
Doc did some fancy dodging, acrobatics, and yelling as he successfully stayed out of the lethal grip. No matter how many times the demon tried to grab him, he stayed one step ahead by throwing chairs and paintings, dodging around bookcases, and vaulting over furniture. Thanks to some cover fire by the others that tripped Barney over, he got to relative safety behind an overturned marble table. "Abercrombie, thank you again!" he sighed in relief. He wiped his forehead, his hand still clutching a lazer pistol. Grabbing a disk-shaped grenade, he faced the creature and yelled
"Yo, Purple People Eater! I don't get THIS close on the first date!" before throwing it into the grinning mouth.
After swallowing the explosive, a muffled boom emanated from within Barney's body. His fat green stomach ballooned out to three times its normal size before deflating like a bad souffle. With black smoke pouring out his nostrils, the monster growled and moved in to smother the hacker with pseudo-kindness.
Niko aimed her double-barreled shotgun at him. "Hey," she challengingly shouted, "eat light!"
Her blasts hit Barney dead-on in the back, but he merely turned around and giggled. "Huh-huh, that tickles..." Shaking his head in false pity, the demon continued with "Y'know, it's not nice when friends get mad at each other! What say we kiss and make up, hmmm?" He nodded and telepathically attacked Niko again.
She screamed and dropped her weapon, knocked to her knees by the sheer waves of agony that flooded her brain.
The other Rangers shouted her name and ran forward, concentrating their blaster fire.
Barney shrugged the lazers off, his heavy footsteps thundering on the floor as he casually strode towards Niko.
Niko shut her eyes in total concentration, one hand clutching her head while the other groped for her badge. Suddenly, she was enveloped in flaming gold light. Her deep magenta-purple eyes opened as she got an enraged look on her face. Standing straight up, she snapped, "I SAID -- _GET_OUT_OF_MY_MIND!!!!!_" With a combined telepathic whammy and telekinetic shove, she blasted the creature back fifty feet to land painfully on his cellophane behind.
Quickly glancing at Niko to make sure she was all right, Goose sped towards Barney with a deep, loud growl. The others covered him while he kept blasting at the monster, pulling the triggers faster and faster the closer he got.
Barney kneeled over, moaning in mortal pain.
Goose grinned and went for the kill.
"No, Goose! Don't get too close..." Zach warned, a second too late.
The demon sprang up and grabbed Goose. He began to squeeze the Ranger in a death grip. "Oh-ho-ho! What have we here?!" With two flicks of his huge finger, Barney popped the earplugs out before singing his song again.
"AAAAAAAAAAAARGH!!!!! Must-resist..." Goose thrashed wildly, shooting away at the creature's belly and legs with the blasters still clenched in his hands. After several moments of pure torture, he wedged his legs between their chests and kicked Barney away. Slapping his badge, his ears glowed gold as they sealed themselves off from all subliminal noises. "BIG mistake, pal... now I'm _immune_ to your sweet-sounding garbage!" Goose aimed between the monster's eyes and began shooting again, forcing him back towards Zach.
Zach tapped his badge, priming the Thunderbolt for action. Right before he could aim it, Barney did an about-face and started attacking _him_ mentally. The captain staggered against the windows, clenching his left fist to hold the blast in as he battled the demon for control. *_NO!!!!!_* he thought defiantly, *I WON'T leave my kids at your mercy!!!!!* He forced the Thunderbolt's energy to swiftly build WAY beyond critical overload, causing the entire bionic arm to glow a bright, blinding gold. He ran forward, thrust his left fist deep within Barney's belly, and fired.
Barney screamed loud enough to wake the dead, temporarily deafening the Rangers and band, before exploding in a rush of sonic power and dark energy that threw everyone around like sticks in a hurricane. His only remains were gallons of purple protoplasmic paste that drenched the room in foul-smelling goo.
When the smoke and dust cleared, faint breezes came in; the creature's annihilation had blown the roof, top three levels, and first story walls off the building. The wooden floor had deep cracks and major structural damage, creaking under the enormous stress it suffered. The furniture, art, and appliances were nothing more than scattered rubble and scraps of fabric. Blaster marks decorated what was left over.
Goose and Niko were the first to reappear, scraped and bruised.
Niko coughed out what felt like tons of dust, but was otherwise all right.
Goose grimaced as he pulled pieces of glass out of his arms, but was likewise undamaged. The band staggered up, holding an unconscious Eve Wheiner in their arms.
"Niko, you okay?" Goose asked in a raspy voice.
"Fine, I'll be fine," she replied in a strained whisper. Niko smiled at him, then frowned as she scanned the rubble. "I hope Doc and Zach are still alive..."
Following some loud moans, they found a weary-faced Doc wedged in beneath the remains of the marble table. A heavy wall pillar immobilized his right leg, so Goose activated his badge for extra strength and tossed it away.
Niko examined Doc's leg and advised him to "Stay still; it's broken in three places." She searched within her first-aid kit, then injected him with a maximum-strength painkiller.
"Don't worry about me, guys -- find Zach," Doc requested with an extremely worried expression.
After asking the band to stay with Doc, they did just that. Zach was sprawled on the ground outside, lying in a huge pile of rubble on the water's edge two hundred feet behind the villa. Niko used her charge to telekinetically push the debris away, then gently levitated him up and placed him in Goose's outstretched arms.
Zach was a sight. Beneath his badly torn uniform, dozens of bleeding red cuts, gashes, and scrapes revealed themselves. Deep blue-black bruises stood out on his chest and torso. His blackened left arm smelled like overcooked electronics. His unconscious state was the only thing that saved him from pain.
Niko ran the scanner over him, revealing that "He's got broken ribs, overloaded bionics, and a battered body, but he'll be just fine."
She and Goose grinned in relief at each other before summoning the medics for help.
Niko and Goose had their wounds tended to and were discharged from the hospital. Doc and Zach stayed there for two weeks, recovering from their severe injuries. Wheiner threatened to sue the Series Five team for damages before he found out that the Omega Initiative was in effect: he was compensated for his losses (ranging in the billions) while excusing the Rangers from any lawsuits. After she got into a screaming match with her "dear father," Eve Wheiner was shipped off to a boarding school on the frontier with her band in tow. All the people affected by Barney's malevolent powers awakened and returned to normal.
Three days after the battle, Zach and Doc finally regained consciousness in the BETA hospital. The doctors examined them and decided that they could receive visitors, then informed the others in the waiting room.
"What fueled that mondo-big Thunderbolt, Captain?" Doc asked. He adjusted his position in the hospital bed, which was a challenge with his broken leg in traction.
"Couldn't let that S.O.B. get my kids," Zach admitted sheepishly. Grimacing at the lingering soreness, he griped "We'd better get out of here soon -- the boredom's killing me!"
Doc grinned at his impatience. "Don't worry, my brave and fearless Captain; after the Commander sends us the forms to be filled out in triplicate about this crazy case, you'll be _grateful_ for the time off!"
Zach made a sour face at Doc, then laughed out loud.
The door opened, and two seconds later Jessi and Little Zach tightly hugged their father. The kids talked excitedly about what had happened. Niko and Goose followed them in, amused expressions on their faces as they headed for the other bed.
"Hey, Doc, we got a present for you!" Goose smirked. He watched as Niko handed over a small white gift-box.
"For ME?! Aw, I'm flattered, my Gooseman!" Doc untied the red bow and lifted the lid to reveal Tripwire, Pathfinder, and his CDU!
"Hiya, Doc!" the tweakers echoed together, flying up to hover before the hacker's delighted face.
"Thanks, guys -- but how'd you find them in all that mess?!"
"Actually, they helped _us_ through it -- they were still in that same door panel, controlling everything from there," Niko replied. "Both of them came right out after you fell unconscious again and helped us navigate through the rubble."
"That's my little programs!" Doc praised.
Turning to Zach, Goose asked "You okay, Captain?"
Zach smiled back, still holding on to his kids. "I am now."