The disclaimer telling all of you that I don't own any Galaxy Ranger characters has slipped away somewhere. This is the sequel to 'Power of the Heart' and the second part of the Eliza's Return series. Badly injured, Shane's only hope of recovering his mind lies within himself and is forced to battle his demons. And if he fails…All the rangers will suffer.
Down the Dark Path
In all his twenty years of existence Shane Gooseman had never felt pain like this.
His brain felt like it was being squeezed through his eyeballs. Agony pulsed through his mind as his memory relived the torture and humiliation of the past twenty four hours.
Then the rescue, the fight between the Rangers and the Queen…The feeling of not being alone any more. It all jumbled together in one violent rapid nightmare until he woke up screaming.
"Goose," Zach went up to him. "Easy Goose, you're all right."
"What…?" Startled Shane looked around him. He was in a tent somewhere wrapped up in a makeshift bed of blankets on the ground. "What happened? Where…Where are we?"
"Crash landed on an unknown planet on our way back to Earth," Zach told him. "Already sent out a distress call. How are you feeling?"
"Like I've been torn to pieces and scattered all over the universe," Shane groaned. "How long was I out?"
"About a day," Zach sighed. "I think your natural bio defenses are working properly again. We had to give you our remaining charges so your body would heal."
"Charge or not, my bio defenses can usually take care of my physical wounds within a short amount of time…" Shane told him as he lay back. "My mental ones…That's another story."
"Here's some news you might find amusing," Zach grinned. "Doc crashed the ship."
"Figures," Shane said softly. "Maybe it's not just me. Maybe we're all cursed."
Zach felt his gut wrench as he saw the look in his friend's eyes. Shane's will had been all but broken. He looked haunted and fragile. "Just rest Goose. We'll be off this planet soon enough."
"In a way…I'm kind of glad we're here and not…" Shane gulped. "Back at Wolf Den…the longer one stayed in the infirmary, the more chance they had of getting…Of not getting out."
"This isn't Wolf Den," Zach told him. "That's not going to happen to you."
"Don't be so sure," Shane had a far away look in his eyes. "Those bastards on the Board of Leaders are always looking for any excuse to ice me. If I can't fight…They'll…they'll…"
"That won't happen!" Zach told him fiercely. "I won't let it! Even if I have to blow up the damned Cryocrypt myself I won't let them do that to you! I promise!"
Shane closed his eyes. "Thanks Zachery…That's means a lot to me…"
"Hey," Doc said as he walked up to them. "He's awake. Yo Gooseman, how you doing?"
"Been better," Shane admitted. "Where's Niko?"
"Right here," Niko walked up and sat down next to him.
"Hey," Shane looked up at her. "Could we…Could we talk for a bit…In private?"
"Oh sure," Doc shrugged casually. "We know when we're not wanted. Come on Captain…"
Niko sat next to him when they left. "Hey…"
"Hey…" Shane looked at her. "Niko I…The Queen…I tried to fight against her…I really did but I…She just..."
"Don't think about that," Niko stopped him. "Goose you couldn't fight against Mindnet alone. Not even I could. It was too strong."
"It did something to me…" Shane shuddered.
"I know," Niko said gently. "It's not your fault. It's going to be all right now. She can't hurt you anymore."
"I'm already hurt…" Shane croaked. "Not just physically…Inside me…Feel like I'm torn apart…And there's only one way to put myself back together."
"Shane," Niko realized something. "You're terrified. And I don't need my gifts to see that."
"I have to do something," Shane admitted weakly. "Something I never thought I could do alone…But I have to. Niko…please tell me…How do you fight against your own mind?"
"What?" Niko was shocked.
"I have to find something but I don't know what…" Shane admitted. "But it's inside my head and…"
"Let me help you Shane," Niko held his face. "Together we can…"
"No," Shane cut her off. "I have to do this myself otherwise…Otherwise I'll never be able to protect myself again…I'll be completely dependent on everyone else. Can you understand that? For me being weak is a fate worse than death. I have to find the strength within myself again…Or else…"
Niko frowned and didn't say anything for a moment. She let out a breath. "I think I do understand what you're saying Shane. But are you sure…?"
"It's the only way for me," Shane told her. "Somehow…I have to take back my mind. Fix what's broken inside of me. On my own. I don't know if I can do it…But I have to try."
Niko nodded. "Just remember one thing, it's your mind. You can be as strong or as weak as you desire. It's your will that will give you strength to deal with whatever you're up against in there. Knowing you, that's one thing you won't be in short supply of."
"You got that right," Shane grinned, allowing a little bit of his old self to return.
"You are so stubborn you know that?" Niko sighed as she stroked his hair. "Always have to do things the hard way."
"Just the way I am I guess," Shane sighed. "Nothing's ever been easy before for me. Why start now?"
"Oh Shane…" Niko sighed. "Be careful. I came so close to losing you I…I don't want to lose you."
"Could you hold me?" He whispered softly. "Just until I go to sleep. I just need to know…Just to feel safe for a moment. Please?"
"Of course Shane," Niko said tenderly, realizing how fragile he truly was at that moment. She managed to make room in the bed so that Shane was resting his head on her chest. She wrapped her arms around him, leaving one hand free to gently stroke his hair. "Is this all right?"
"Tighter," He whispered closing his eyes. She complied. He made a small sound of contentment. "I'll come back you know? Just promise me you'll be here when I wake up."
"I promise," Niko told him. "Shane…"
"Just knowing that you'll be here…Everything will be all right," Shane whispered as he finally started to drift into darkness. He took in her scent and her warmth, drawing as much strength as he could from her. "Niko…I…I…"
"Shhhh," Niko comforted him. "Don't say anything."
But I have to say this! Shane's mind shouted. If I can't even do this…If I can't even tell you how I feel about you…What chance do I have of ever coming back? Why can't I say it? I can say anything to anyone else without fear or hesitation but to you Niko…Why is it so hard for me to say those three words that I want to say more than anything else in the world?
I failed to say it before to Darkstar and I lost her. I can't lose you too, Niko.
I have to say it…
I need to say it…
"Love you…" The words escaped Shane's lips as he started to fall away.
"I love you too…" Were the last words he heard before he fell into darkness.
Shane felt himself falling for a long while. Then he landed on his bare feet in the middle of some swampy purple muck.
"I've heard people tell me I've had a dirty mind before," Shane grumbled. "But this is ridiculous."
He stood up and looked around. The only thing he wore was a pair of boxer shorts. "Okay here I am…" He gulped. "In my mind…Lost…Alone…and very vulnerable. Great start."
A rumbling sound was behind him. "That can't be good…" He grumbled as he turned around. A giant blob of purple goo seemed to rush towards him, threatening to engulf him completely.
A wave of pure panic rose inside Shane. He couldn't help himself. Instinctively he ran away from the slime. "It's all in my mind…" Shane tried to tell himself. "This is not real. It can't be real!"
He ran in terror from the strange slime until he found some high ground. He hid himself behind some rocks. An unknown panic took hold of him as he sat down, hugging his knees to his chest. "It's not real…not real…" He closed his eyes tightly, but unable to remove the fear. Still he couldn't stop shaking.
"Come on Gooseman pull yourself together," Shane chastised himself after a few minutes. "You've fought real enemies that were tougher than this! Don't fall to pieces now."
"That's right, Shane," A gentle voice told him. "You're stronger than this."
"Max?" Shane looked up. He saw his old friend and mentor standing before him. "Max is that you?"
"Remember what I told you?" Max knelt down to his level. "You have to stand up for what you believe in."
"You did and look what happened to you," Shane grumbled.
"This isn't about me," Max said to him. "This is about you. Goose you've never been one to run away from anything before."
"I know…" Shane felt ashamed. "I want to fight but…Something's wrong with me, Max. That witch the Queen of the Crown did something to my mind! I'm trying but it's so hard…"
"I know it is," Max said gently. "But you've always been strong Shane, even when you were afraid. You can beat this. I know you can. I've always known that you could beat anything when you put your mind to it."
"I miss you Max," Shane unsuccessfully fought the tears in his eyes. "I miss you so much. But I'm the reason they sent you away. Because you tried to get them to stop hurting me…It's my fault."
"It's not your fault," Max shook his head. "I couldn't take what they were doing to all the Supertroopers."
"Still…It was on that day they finally decided they had enough of you…" Shane remembered.
"Shane listen to me," Max told him. "I don't want you to blame yourself for what happened any longer. Do you understand me? What happened that day was not your fault!"
"I know but I still feel…" Shane shook his head. "I didn't realize how much I depended on you and needed you until they took you away from me. When you left I was so lost inside…"
"I'm always going to be a part of you, Shane," Max put his hand on his shoulder. "The part of me that loves and trusts you will always be inside your heart. Nothing can take that away from us. I'll be watching over you. Just like I need you to watch over Billy. Can I count on you to do that?"
"Yes," Shane reined in his tears and stood up. "I'll protect him, Max. I promise."
"That's my trooper," Max smiled warmly. "All I have ever asked of you was that you do your best and be a good man. You will beat this, Shane. You just needed a reminder of what you're fighting for."
"You're right," Shane closed his eyes and focused. "I do need to remember. I have to fight for my friends who risked their lives to save me. I have to fight for the Commander who believes in me. I have to fight for Billy who needs me. I have to fight for the other Supertroopers who can't fight anymore…I have to fight for Max for justice and to clear his name…But most of all…"
Shane opened his eyes, cold with rage. "I have to fight for myself against every son of a bitch who thought they could just walk all over me!"
Max was gone and the purple ooze was all around him. "This time I'm not running!" Shane yelled. "You want a fight? You got it!"
Suddenly from out of nowhere a blaster materialized. Without thinking Shane grabbed it and fired on the ooze around him. "Get out of here slime!"
The slime seemed to scream in agony as the laser fire burned into it. Shane kept firing trying to burn away every single bit of it. "YOU'RE NOT GOING TO TAKE ME SO FORGET ABOUT IT!" Shane shouted as he fired even more.
Just as he thought he had destroyed the last bit of the slime it changed color. It turned black and grew taller. Several dozen feet taller. "This could be a problem," Shane growled as the slime descended on him like a tidal wave.
He tried to fire but the blaster was knocked out of his hands. He was dragged underneath it for a moment until he managed to break the surface using all his strength.
However he couldn't fight against the current and was carried away by it. Until he saw a frozen tree branch above him. Somehow it was low enough for Shane to grab it and pull himself out. He managed to escape the slimy river and ended up on a snow bank. "Ugh…and I thought the sewers of Tortuna were disgusting," Shane coughed as he got to his feet.
He started to walk away. It was cold and the wind bit into his wet exposed skin. "First a swamp now the North Pole," Shane snorted. He saw the bodies of frozen Supertroopers in the ice. "Yeah this is original."
"I wouldn't feel too guilty if I were you," A strangely familiar voice sneered. "Most of 'em had it coming!"
"They were my friends," Shane said bitterly. "And I betrayed them."
"Oh please!" The voice mocked. "Most of them hated your guts because they were so jealous of you! And those that didn't only were nice to you because they felt sorry for you!"
"Yes they did and you know it," The voice snarled. "Do you seriously think if your positions were reversed they'd hesitate to freeze you? Forget it! They were more than willing to tear you to pieces if given half a chance."
"They would have too…" Shane realized. "If Darkstar hadn't stood up for me…"
"And what did she do? Ran off with that twerp Stingray! But you still carried a torch for her. That's why you waited until she left to attack!" The voice mocked.
"I did," Shane admitted. "I couldn't…I didn't want to…"
"But you found it in yourself to zap the others didn't ya?" The voice asked. "Let's cut the bull you've been feeding yourself all these years. You didn't exactly turn on them in order to protect losers like Wheiner now did you? They were nuts and would have killed you given half a chance. It was either them or you and it wasn't gonna be you! Am I right?"
"I…" Shane was shocked at the realization. "No…I mean…What about Walsh? And Dr. Nagata?"
"What about 'em? You were nothing more than an experiment to them!" The voice shouted.
"No…They were…" Shane began.
"What? Goose? Nice to you? Yeah when they weren't pumping you with drugs or electric shocks or radiation! Or treating you like a freaking lab rat! And still you jumped on command like a trained seal waiting for just the slightest pat on the head! That's the other reason why you did it. Deep down you just couldn't find it in yourself to disappoint the Commander! You behaved like a good little soldier and turned on your own kind just to get some kind of approval from him."
"No, that's not true…" Shane started to shake.
"It is true! Not that those losers were your kind anyway," The voice smirked. "They were only half as smart as you were and twice as arrogant! They hated you because you were the best and they knew it. They hated you because Walsh liked you! You liked obeying his orders. You liked it when he praised you! The other Supertroopers were nothing more than wild animals while you were content to be Walsh's little pet!"
"SHUT UP!" Shane shouted at the voice.
"Walsh's Pet! Walsh's Pet!" The voice taunted.
"I AM NOT!"
"You are too! Look at you! You're practically domesticated! Got a nice shiny collar in the shape of a badge and everything," The voice sneered. "And it's still not enough for you! You crave attention from him! It's like a drug for you!"
"Shut up! I'm not listening to this garbage!" Shane covered his ears but he could not block the sound.
"Garbage? Really? Tell the truth Shane. When you saw how crazy the others were acting you were scared weren't you? Answer me! Were you scared?"
"Yes…" Shane winced at the admission.
"And you knew they would kill you didn't you? Didn't you?"
"Yes…" Shane admitted.
"And then they'd kill Commander Walsh and you couldn't bear for that to happen? Am I right?" The voice shouted. "Answer me!"
"Yes…" Shane said in a small voice.
"All right," The voice seemed satisfied. "Now we're getting somewhere. Basically we've just confirmed you turned on the others for mostly self preservation and to protect your master…I mean Commander Walsh. Hey don't worry. Self preservation is a pretty damn good reason as far as I'm concerned. It was a gamble that paid off didn't it? You got a nice apartment with a nice soft bed, decent meals, a nice warm shower all to yourself…Remember when you were younger? You used to dream of having a nice private shower filled with all the hot water you wanted."
"The first time I was in a private bathroom all by myself was after…" Shane remembered.
"After you turned on the others," The voice said. "And Walsh rewarded you didn't he? It felt good didn't it?"
"It was…comforting," Shane remembered.
"Of course it did. It was the first bit of real pleasure you ever had," The voice said in an oily voice that was attempting to be soothing. "That's when you finally started to live. You started to explore the world and your body…Do you remember the night those inhibitor drugs wore off?"
"Stop it…" Shane hissed.
"Yeah that was some fun night you had," The voice laughed. "All those teenage hormones finally catching up with you in your sleep. Those dreams you had so vivid…so wild."
"STOP TALKING ABOUT THAT!" Shane shouted.
"Oh get a sense of humor," The voice chuckled. "It was kind of funny. That look on poor Walsh's face when he had to explain to you exactly what a wet dream is was priceless!"
"SHUT UP!" Shane roared. "WHO THE HELL ARE YOU ANYWAY? SHOW YOURSELF!"
"I'm right here," Shane's reflection in the ice grinned back at him. "Come on in."
Just then the ice broke from underneath him. Shane yelled as he fell into the darkness. He wasn't able to control his fall and landed right on his backside. "Ow!" He looked around and saw that he was in the middle of a street in a frontier town.
He stood up and saw several wooden buildings that were empty and in ruins. "Not exactly a vacation spot is it?" Shane heard a voice behind him. "But I call it home."
He whirled around and saw almost the exact image of himself. But this Shane was harder. He had two day's worth of stubble on his face, making him look more sinister. He also wore Shane's familiar black cowboy outfit. "Gotta admit Kid, we do have good taste in clothes."
"Are…are you supposed to be me or something?" Shane blinked.
"Yeah. Something like that. Think of me as your guide to self discovery," Dark Shane strutted around him. "I'm here to light your path in the dark. To show you the truth of what you really are."
"What do you mean?" Shane asked.
"What I am trying to say is that you are a living weapon," Dark Shane told him. "Like it or not it's the truth. It's time you stopped running from it and face reality."
"I am not weapon!" Shane shouted.
"Yes you are," Dark Shane said. "You destroy everything you touch. Sounds like a weapon to me."
"I AM NOT!" Shane shouted defiantly.
"Oh really?" Dark Shane gave him a look. "Let's take a look at your track record shall we? Max? Dead. Your babysitter Triton…Dead. The first squad you were ever put on…Dead. All the other Supertroopers…Either dead, crazy or frozen. Are you seeing a pattern here?"
"No…" Shane shook his head and took a step backwards. "I'm not…I can't be…"
"Face it kid, out of all the other Supertroopers you were the only one that was the true weapon," Dark Shane told him. "You were made…To destroy them."
"No…I'm not…I'm not…" Shane was horrified.
"SO WHAT IF YOU ARE? THEY HAD IT COMING!" Dark Shane roared. "THEY TREATED YOU LIKE CRAP ALL YOUR LIFE AND WHY? WHY? BECAUSE YOU WERE SMALLER THAN THEY WERE! BECAUSE YOU WERE YOUNGER THAN THEY WERE! BECAUSE YOU WERE DIFFERENT! ALL YOU EVER WANTED WAS THEIR FRIENDSHIP AND THEY COULDN'T EVEN GIVE THAT TO YOU! WELL GOOD RIDDANCE! YOU DIDN'T NEED THEM ANYWAY!"
"No…" Shane shook his head. "They were my friends. Well some of them anyway."
"If by some you mean Darkstar then yeah!" Dark Shane snapped at him. "You hated them for how they treated you! Admit it!"
"I hated it…" Shane realized. "I hated them…"
"And sooner or later…You're going to hate everyone else…" Dark Shane told him. "Let's look at your new team. You're jealous of Zach. He's got a family. Okay a wife that's frozen but I've heard a lot of guys have that problem. Nothing new. Doc's rich. He comes from a pampered playboy mansion background. Living the good life while you suffered! And Niko…Actually we do like Niko. Then again…like isn't exactly the word is it? Could have a lot of fun with her. Well if she doesn't buy the farm first. Even if she does there's always the captain's wife. She's pretty hot for an older lady. I'll bet it wouldn't be that hard if you played your cards right. Dead husband on a tragic mission…Poor widow alone in the world…A sympathetic shoulder to cry on…"
With a roar Shane leapt at his dark self's throat. "SHUT UP YOU GOD DAMNED SON OF A DISEASED TEST TUBE!" He wrapped his hands around his enemy's throat. "I DON'T WANT TO HEAR ANOTHER WORD OUT OF THAT FILTH HOLE YOU CALL A MOUTH! IF I DO I'LL YANK YOUR TONGUE OUT AND USE IT FOR BAIT! GOT IT?"
Dark Shane snarled and batted him away with ease. "Well, well…" He grinned. "Seems you're not as tame as I thought you were. They haven't completely crushed your spirit after all."
"Keep talking slime ball and you'll see how tame I really am!" Shane snarled.
"That's it!" His darker side shouted. "Get mad! I want to see how well you can fight!"
"You want a fight? You got it!" Shane roared as he attacked.
To his shock his darker self batted him away easily. "Come on! You're not even trying! Put some heart into it! I know…Maybe all you need is some incentive." He pulled out a red and black flaming ball from his chest.
"What is that?" Shane asked.
"It's the power you've been looking for," Dark Shane grinned. He pulled the ball of fire inside himself. "All you have to do is take it. If you can."
Shane looked at his darker self. "Come on boy…" His dark side sneered. "Take it. Prove to me that you are the Supertrooper you were created to be."
"I am not…" Shane panted. "That person anymore. I AM A GALAXY RANGER!"
Suddenly a bright glow shone around Shane, nearly blinding his darker half. When it faded Shane was fully dressed in his ranger uniform. "I protect lives! Not destroy them!" Shane stated with firm conviction.
"Protect them? Please? Didn't we just establish that the reason you turned on your own kind was to protect yourself?" Dark Shane snapped.
"You're half right," Shane growled. "Yes, I was afraid of what they would do to me. I was afraid of them hurting the Commander. And part of me did resent how they treated me. But those aren't the reasons I did what I did. The truth is that I had to stop them. What was I supposed to do? Let them run wild and kill everyone in sight? No, they were going to hurt people, innocent people including Commander Walsh! I was created to protect the Earth from dangers like that…Even from other Supertroopers."
Shane glared at his dark counterpart. "I live to protect people! No matter what else I am, no matter what else they made me that part of me will always be there! I couldn't change that even if I wanted to! My nature…My true nature is to protect life! And I won't abandon it!"
"Then how do you explain me?" Dark Shane sneered.
"You're just a by product of a lousy childhood," Shane snapped. "So we had it rough as a kid? Boo Freaking hoo! Get over it!"
"Who do you think you are you delusional…" Dark Shane leapt at him but this time he was the one knocked down.
"Now who's delusional?" Shane sneered. "I'm the stronger one here and I always will be and don't you forget it!"
His darker self glared at him as he got up. "Yeah…You're strong all right. Too damn strong for my taste."
"I'm getting out of here," Shane went to the border of the town. "Don't follow me."
"Yeah like that's gonna happen anytime soon," Dark Shane grumbled and folded his arms.
"You can't leave can you?" Shane realized. "You're a prisoner here."
"And the only way out is to take over," Dark Shane confirmed it. "Yeah…You got it."
"So all I had to do was walk out of town," Shane folded his arms.
"Like you run away from anything," Dark Shane snorted. "You're too stupid to do that! I mean that's the whole point of this little walkabout in your brain isn't it?"
"I wouldn't call it stupidity to face down my fears," Shane snarled taking a step forward. "You want me to come back in there and show you I'd be glad to…"
"Hold on…" Dark Shane held up his hands. "That's not necessary. You won. Here…" He pulled out the red glowing ball of fire. "You beat me. You've earned this. That's how it goes."
"No," Shane narrowed his eyes. "I don't want it!"
"What?" Dark Shane snarled.
"I don't want anything from you!" Shane shouted at him. "You disgust me!"
"I disgust you? I am you!" Dark Shane snapped. "Haven't you figured that out by now? All your anger, your bitterness…your hate…I've been carefully nourished for years. You think you've locked me away? Wrong! You're just giving me more time to feed and get stronger!"
"No," Shane snarled. "You may be a part of me but you're not me! You hear that! I will never be you! Never! You're going to stay down here forever! Got it?"
Dark Shane responded to this threat by laughing hysterically. "What's so funny?" Shane snarled.
Dark Shane laughed. "You really have no idea what's going on do you? You think you've won the battle when actually you're about to lose the war."
"Is there a point to this or are you just going to ramble on like Bubblehead?" Shane snapped.
"I'm saying that promise your dear sweet Niko made to you isn't going to come true," Dark Shane sneered.
"You're not going to hurt her!" Shane shouted.
"I never said I was," Dark Shane corrected him. "It's funny how people overlook the little things in life. Things so small, practically microscopic but in the end they're the things that destroy them. It almost destroyed you, but you fought them back. Yes your bio defenses came quite in handy back there in the swamp didn't they? Thing is, it wasn't a swamp to begin with."
"It was an infection…" Realization struck Shane. "A virus…"
"That's right, bright boy!" Dark Shane laughed. "Funny isn't it? When you wake up you'll be as good as new. Too bad the same can't be said for your friends. They'll be dead."
"No…" Shane was horrified. "I don't believe you!"
"Oh yes you do. You know it's true," Dark Shane taunted him. "You might as well just take my power anyway. It's not like you're not going to need it. It could be a long time before you're rescued. If you're rescued. Maybe you might be able to turn yourself into a fish just like our dear mother…"
"SHUT UP!" Shane snapped.
"Face it Goose…" Dark Shane sneered. "You're always going to be alone. Because sooner or later everything you touch either dies or gets wrecked because of you. Accept it. Forget this nonsense about protecting people and saving lives and go back to doing what you do best. It's the only way you'll get your revenge on the Board of World Leaders. It's the only way to take down the other Supertroopers once and for all. It's the only way you're going to be free."
Shane growled and concentrated. A magazine appeared in his hand. "Here!" He tossed it at his darker self.
"What the hell is this?" Dark Shane snapped as he caught it.
"Some reading material," Shane told his dark self. "You're going to be stuck here a long time." He walked away.
"I'M NOT THROUGH WITH YOU YET! YOU HEAR ME?" Dark Shane roared. "SOONER OR LATER YOU'LL GET INTO A SITUATION WHERE ONLY I WILL SAVE YOUR SORRY BEHIND! EVERYONE AND EVERYTHING WILL TURN ON YOU AND WHO WILL GET YOU THROUGH IT? ME! AND THAT DAY WHEN I BUST OUT I'LL SHOW YOU WHAT A SUPERTROOPER IS REALLY CAPABLE OF! YOU HEAR ME RUNT?"
"Don't…ever…call me…Runt!" Shane roared. He spun around quickly and slammed his fist straight into his dark doppelganger's mouth, knocking his evil self unconscious. "I think Kilbane has that trademarked." He then proceeded to leave town.
Shane found himself lost in a thick fog. "Okay now where am I?" He grumbled.
The fog seemed to part and Shane found himself in front of Wolf Den base. "I had to ask," He rolled his eyes. "How much more crap from my past do I have to put up with?"
"A lot apparently," Darkstar appeared before him.
"Darkstar…" Shane blinked.
"It's fitting don't you think?" Darkstar asked. "This is where it all began. Where you betrayed us and ruined our lives."
"Oh no…" Shane gritted his teeth. "You are not going to lay this crap on me! I may not have been able to tell you exactly how I felt but you knew I cared about you! I begged you not to leave. I pleaded with you, but you ran away! I needed you and you abandoned me! So you have no right to complain to me about how lousy your life is! Not that you're even here! You're just another one of my stupid subconscious thoughts! Newsflash! You love Stingray, not me! You always did! I got the message! I got over it! SO GET LOST!"
With that Darkstar disappeared. "I'm getting real sick of this…" Shane grumbled. Then he heard a noise. "What's that? It sounds like…crying?" He went inside to investigate.
The sound of the crying grew louder. Shane realized that it was coming from the detention center of Wolf Den. He made his way down the dark hallway to one of the cells. "This place still gives me the creeps," Shane grumbled, remembering many a 'time out' he and the other Supertroopers were given as punishment.
The sound came from one of the cells. "Okay…Now what demon do I have to fight?" Shane grumbled. "I guess there's only one way to find out." He took out his blaster and blasted open the door.
He walked into the cell. "All right who's in…Here?" He stood there in shock at what he saw.
Hunched in a corner of the cell was a small boy, covered in white feathers from head to toe. Even his hair was made of feathers. He was wearing only a green coverall and was crying loudly. "Who…Who's there…?"
"A kid?" Shane blinked.
The little boy looked up at him, blinking. His wide green eyes were filled with tears. "Are you…Are you here to take me away?" The boy whimpered. "Please take me away!" He got up and ran into Shane's arms. "Please take me away… I don't want to stay in the dark anymore!"
"What are you supposed to be? My inner child or something?" Shane blinked as he held the boy. Idly he stroked his head. "And what's with the feathers?"
"It's because I'm different," The child sniffed. "None of the others think I'm good enough. I'm a freak."
"Don't say that," Shane said gently. "They're probably just jealous of you."
"It's true!" The child sobbed. "No matter how hard I try most of them hate me! They say I'm weak and I'll never be good enough! I hate it here! I want to go home! But I don't have a home! Please take me away! Please! I just want to get away from this dark place! I've been locked up so long…All alone…"
"It's okay," Shane comforted the boy. "I'll get you out of here."
"Promise?" The boy asked.
"Promise," Shane picked him up and carried him out the door. He wandered through the hallways of Wolf Den. "If I can find the exit in this place. I should have taken a map from my other half or something."
"I'm glad you didn't take that power," The boy said. "That dark one…He was trying to trick you. It was a trap."
"What do you mean?" Shane asked.
"That power he promised is really a big part of himself," The boy said. "If you took it willingly you'd have allowed him a way out of his prison. It would eat at you, making you more like him."
"And eventually take over my body," Shane realized. "So that's why he was so willing to give it to me all of the sudden."
"Yeah he's real sneaky," The boy said. "You just can't trust him. Everything he says is a half lie or a twisted truth."
"I think I figured that out on my own," Shane grumbled. Suddenly some monitors next to him began to fizzle and come to life. "Now what?"
On the monitor he saw Zach and the other Rangers. Their images were fuzzy. "How long do you think we have?" Doc asked.
"Not long enough…" Niko let out a breath. "Even if they got our distress call it could be days before…And we don't have that long."
"Guys! Listen! It's me! Can you hear me?" Shane called out. He tried to fiddle with the controls. "Zachery! Doc! Niko! Come on! Answer me!"
Then he noticed there were purple lesions on their bodies. "Just our luck to escape the Queen of the Crown and land on a planet that has some kind of toxic virus on it…" Doc coughed.
"The spots are almost gone on Goose," Zach said. "I think his bio-defenses are working somehow."
"Wish we had those," Doc said.
"No…" Shane was stunned. "Doc! Listen to me! There's got to be something we can do! Doc? Niko?"
The screen fizzled and turned to snow. Sinister laugher echoed through the building. "They can't hear you Goose…" Dark Shane taunted as his image came up on the screen. "I told you that they were going to die."
"SHUT UP!" Shane roared at the screen.
"You're always going to be alone," Dark Shane taunted. "I guess some people have to learn their lesson the hard way! HA HA HA!"
"SHUT UP!" Shane roared as he destroyed the monitor with his blasters.
"They're going to die," Shane sank to his knees. "And I can't save them! It's all my fault! They should have left me behind! If they did they'd…It's not fair! Damn it! Why does everyone I care about have to suffer or die?"
Tears started to flow from his eyes. "What good is it being able to heal myself if everyone around me dies? My bio-defenses may make me nearly invulnerable and able to recover from any wound but what good are they if my friends die? What good is it? Tell me! Is that my fate to always be alone? I don't want that!"
"Why don't you use your bio-defenses to heal them?" The child suggested.
"It doesn't work like that," Shane closed his eyes, fighting the tears in them without success.
"How do you know unless you try?" The child suggested. Shane turned to look at him. "That's why you came down here right? To get stronger so you could help your friends. Why can't you heal them as well as yourself?"
"Is…is that possible?" Shane whispered, daring to hope. The child smiled and nodded. "How? How do I do that? Can you teach me?"
"Of course I can," The boy smiled. He took Shane's hand. "Come on! Follow me!"
"Where are we going?" Shane asked as he let the boy lead him.
"We have to go to the Secret Place," He explained as he started to run. "That's where you'll learn how to do it!"
"The Secret Place?" Shane asked. "What's that? Where is it?"
"It's that small part of yourself that no one else can go to," The boy explained as they ran. "It's where your true strength comes from. Your body and soul intersect there. I know you've never found it. But I know where it is. I can show you."
"This place…" Shane asked as the boy touched a wall and a door opened. "Cheyenne told me once that I could change into something else. Was it created because of…"
"No, you always had it inside you," The boy said as he led him through the door. "It's part of what you are."
"What I am?" Shane blinked as he looked at his new surroundings. All around him were seemingly endless fields of green grass, beautiful multicolored flowers and clumps of trees with gold and red leaves. Flocks of white geese flew in the sky and metal horses raced across the field. "I'm part of this?"
"Yup," The boy nodded.
"I didn't know," Shane looked around. "I didn't think anything this beautiful could exist inside of me."
"That's pretty sad," The boy frowned. "Come on. We're almost there."
"Almost where?" Shane asked as he followed the boy. Soon they came to a huge lake in a secluded area. "A lake?"
"It's not really a lake," The boy told him as he removed his coverall. "It's really your life force. You just see it in a way that's easy to understand."
"My life force?" Shane looked at the clear water.
"Yup," The boy dove in. "What you're looking for is in here."
"In there huh? Okay…" Shane prepared to walk in.
"What are you doing?" The boy yelled sharply. "You can't come in here wearing that!"
"Huh?" Shane stopped.
"You have to take off your uniform," The boy said, clearly exasperated. "And put away your blasters."
"Hello? Sacred water here!" The boy groaned. "Do I really have to explain it?"
"Oh," Shane blinked. He removed his weapons and started to undress. "Sorry."
"Boy for a grown up you really don't know much do you?" The boy gave him a look.
"Give me a break! I've never done this kind of stuff before!" Shane snapped as he removed the last of his uniform. Soon all he wore were a pair of boxers. "Better?"
"Much," The boy nodded his approval. Shane dove into the water and swam up to the boy. "Okay now I want you to get a feel for the water. What do you sense?"
"Besides that," The boy narrowed his eyes. "Feel the energy flowing through it. Let it absorb into you."
Shane closed his eyes and concentrated. He felt a slight tingle then a great current through his body. "Whoa…" He gasped and opened his eyes.
"This lake is your life force," The boy told him. "Now you have to learn how to use it. Become one with it. Let it be an extension of your body. Try to move it with your mind."
Nothing happened. "Nothing's happening," Shane gritted.
"You're trying too hard," The boy swam around him. "Let yourself go. If you don't learn how to do this properly you could kill yourself. Or worse, someone else with this."
"No pressure," Shane grumbled.
"Don't talk," The boy chided. "Just relax. Breathe…Don't fight the water if you start to sink. It's your life force, you can exist within it. Just let yourself forget and find your center. Let go of your fears, your hate…Everything…Except what is in your heart."
"Okay…Let go…" He closed his eyes and lay back in the water. He floated on top. "I feel something…A current from underneath."
"That current is tied into your bio-defenses," The boy said. "Your life force gives them energy and vice versa. They're both tied closely together."
"I feel it…"Shane focused. The lake began to glow. "Yes…This feels familiar. Like when I charge my badge right before I transform…"
"Feel the energy your bio-defenses are emitting…" The boy instructed him. "Let it grow."
"Okay…" Shane let the energy move through him.
"There's something else," The boy warned him. "This lake…if it dries out…"
"I die, I get it," Shane nodded. "Okay…So how do I get back? And how do I use…"
"Just shut up and let the energy guide you," The boy told him. "Focus. You can do this."
"All right," Shane closed his eyes and let the energy build up inside him.
Then the knowledge came to him. How to use his bio-defenses and the energy they made to heal the others.
It was so simple he wondered why he never thought of it before.
He felt the glow cover his entire being and a strange rush. Then he opened his eyes and he found himself back at the campsite. His body was no longer sore and he felt fully healed and strong. His body glowed softly as he got up to look for his friends.
They weren't far from his side, all passed out on the ground, purple lesions covering them. He sat down, pulling all three of them into an embrace in front of him and used the knowledge he had learned to save them. Almost immediately the purple rashes on their bodies began to disappear.
Shane didn't feel weaker as he gave his energy to his friends. Instead a strange sense of peace flowed over him. What is this feeling? I know I'm losing strength but I don't feel it. Shane thought to himself.
Instead I feel…Stronger somehow. Like this is what I was meant to do. This is what I was living for. To protect my friends…To give my life for them if I had to…Knowing that they will live and be safe no matter what the cost to myself…
I've always known about this…Wanted this…But I never knew…I never knew how this would make me feel. Like I've finally found a part of myself I've been missing. A part of me that was taken away a long time ago. So long that I forgot about it until now.
How could I have lived without it?
"Shane…?" He heard Niko whisper.
"Guys…I…I gotta admit something…" Shane told them, knowing they were awake. "When we first met, I didn't think much of you. I didn't want to think much of you. I thought I wouldn't stay long with this team. After a few missions either you'd get tired of me or…or something else would happen. And I'd just go to another squad. And that would be my life, being transferred from one squad to the next. And I was okay with that. Because I didn't think I deserved real friends or needed them. But you all changed that for me. You showed me there was more to life than anger and revenge…That I could feel more than hate. You gave me your friendship and love without ever asking anything in return. And I can never repay you enough for that. But maybe now…Maybe I can just a little…"
"Gooseman? What are you…?" Doc croaked.
"Niko…Zach…Doc…You are my friends…You are my whole world. I won't lose you. Not now. Not to anything. Not when you all have so much to live for. So many dreams you have…" Shane said softly. "And I won't let anyone or anything take them away…I promise…"
That was when he fell into darkness. He seemed to fall for a long time. He didn't know when he landed but somehow he did. He lay in a large puddle. The lake around him had been all but dried out. But there was still water all around him in puddles.
"See…There's still some left…" Shane smiled as he let the darkness overtake him.
For a while there was nothingness. Then he found himself in the water again. The lake seemed a lot smaller and it seemed so shallow it was almost ankle deep. But the sky above him was clear and he could see the white geese flying overhead. Everything was so calm and peaceful.
Shane…Shane where are you?
"Niko?" Shane recognized the voice. He just couldn't get up. "Niko is that you?"
Shane? Shane can you hear me?
"I'm here, Niko…" Shane said, closing his eyes. "I'm just…so tired."
Shane please wake up…
"I will Niko," Shane let out a breath. "In a little bit. I'm just so tired and it feels so safe here…Please just let me sleep a little longer."
I don't want to lose you…
"You won't…" Shane promised as the lake filled up and the water surrounded him. "I just…Just want to rest a little longer. That's all."
He felt himself being pulled under the water but he didn't fight it. He could still breathe and let the current take him away. When he opened his eyes again this time he was in the ocean. And he wasn't alone.
"Cheyenne…" Shane whispered at the figure in front of him. "Is that you or am I still dreaming?"
"I'm here, Shane," She gently touched his cheek. "You fought your darkness and claimed a part of yourself that's been hidden for far too long. I'm proud of you. But now you must go back."
"I don't want to…" Shane admitted. "But if I don't I'll be stuck here won't I?" She nodded. "Will I see you again?"
"You know the answer to that," She smiled. "It's time to go home…"
"Home…" Shane closed his eyes. "With my friends…"
He felt himself slip away from her. Into darkness again. This time he was able to see a dim light at the end. He forced himself to follow it until…
He opened his eyes and found himself lying on a hospital bed. To his surprise he saw Commander Walsh sitting by his bedside holding his hand. "Commander?"
"Shane," Commander Walsh breathed a sigh of relief. Still holding his hand he moved closer to Shane, placing his free hand on the side of the young Supertrooper's head. He lightly stroked Shane's blond hair in an almost fatherly fashion.
"Just when I think you can't surprise me any more," Walsh let out an amazed sigh. "Just when I think you can't do the impossible…Or…Or give me any more gray hairs…"
"The others…Niko…Zach…Doc…" Shane croaked, his throat was parched and he felt extremely weak.
"They're fine," Walsh told him. "The virus was removed from their systems thanks to you. I don't know how you did it or how you even thought of…Your bio systems were never designed to…"
"There are…a lot of things I do that…I'm not designed to do…" Shane gasped. "Water…please?"
"Of course Shane," Walsh nodded. He stopped stroking his hair and went to get him some water. He helped Shane sit up so that he could drink it. Shane closed his eyes as the Commander poured the cool refreshing liquid down his throat.
"More…" Shane whimpered when he finished. Walsh complied and gave him another glass of water to drink. "Thank you…"
"No Shane, thank you," A tear was forming in Walsh's eye. "You…Never mind. It's not important right now. We'll talk about…about what you did later. Right now all that matters is that you're all right. And you need a lot of rest."
"Commander…" Shane's voice was still weak. "I have to tell you something. You…You were wrong…"
"About what Shane?"
"About us…Supertroopers…not having a family," Shane gasped the words out. "You thought that if we had…blood ties it would distract us…make us weak…But it's having people who care about you…Who you care about…That's what makes you stronger. If I didn't care about…about my friends I never would have tried to do…What I did. It's having something or someone you want to protect that makes you strong. I understand that now."
Walsh had a stunned look in his eyes. "Shane…"
"Do you understand what I'm trying to say?" Shane asked softly.
"Yes Shane I do," Walsh sighed. "And you're right…Just rest now. Don't try to get up."
"I'm just going to close my eyes for a little bit…" Shane sighed, feeling exhausted. "So tired…"
"It's okay," Walsh held his hand. "You get all the rest you need. You've earned it."
"Commander…?" Shane whispered, still feeling weak and vulnerable. "Could you…Could you just sit with me a while? Please?"
"I was planning on it anyway," Walsh touched the side of Shane's face with surprising tenderness. "Shane…You're not alone. You're always going to have me. I promise."
Shane closed his eyes. Why does this feel so right? And so…familiar? Something about him…Makes me feel so safe, protected. Just knowing he's here…Makes all the bad things and dark fears go away…Almost the same way I feel when I'm around Cheyenne.
He…cares about me. Why? I'm just a trooper he created…He's created and trained hundreds of us. But I'm different to him. Why?
Maybe because I've tried so hard to get him to respect me all these years?
Maybe because I'm the last…The only sane one who survived?
Or maybe because he's my friend?
It doesn't matter. All I care about right now is that he's not going to abandon me. He never did.
Before he knew it he opened his eyes again. He realized that he had fallen back asleep but it didn't matter. He was still very weak but somehow he knew he would get his strength back eventually.
Of course no amount of strength in the world would have prepared him for the sight of Bubblehead sitting on his chest. "Goose?" The Memory Bird blinked.
"Hey Bird Brain," Shane smiled. "Figures, first thing I see when I get back is you to annoy me!"
"GOOSE! WAAAAH! DON'T EVER DO THAT TO ME AGAIN!" Bubblehead cried as he hugged him with his wings. "You were out for days and days and days!"
"Come on bird," Shane weakly petted Bubblehead. "You're embarrassing me." He couldn't help smiling though.
"Oh Big Guy we were all worried about you!" Bubblehead sniffed. "Well not Wheiner but I gave him a few good pecks on the head because he was being a jerk! But everybody else was crying and sobbing and really, really worried about you! I mean we all thought you went to that big birdhouse in the sky for a moment! And when Doc thought he was gonna be stuck with me he started to cry!"
"I'll bet," Shane grinned weakly.
"Don't do that again Goose…" Bubblehead chirped.
"I won't," Shane smiled as he petted him.
"Good Goose," Bubblehead said cheerfully. "Hey before I forget there's a real pretty lady here to see you! I'll go get her." He flew to the door. "Hey! He's awake now! Come on in!"
Niko…Shane thought as he closed his eyes. He heard her walk into the room.
"I told you I'd be back, Babe," Shane smirked. "You really shouldn't…"
When he opened his eyes he was startled to see it was not Niko he was talking to, but another auburn haired woman.
"Hello Shane," Eliza Foxx, a woman he had seen a thousand times in pictures stood before him. "Thank you. Thank you for bringing us all home."
Then it hit him. Shane had found something he had always wanted but never knew it.
He was home.