It had been months since the encounter on Phaedos. Months since Dulcea had simply touched him with one hand, not even a blow of combat, and his entire world and everything he'd ever thought or believed in his life was turned upside down and inside out and every which way.
I wasn't evil anymore. The very thought of doing things the way I had made me sick. She cured me. His featureless expression did what it could to be a smile at the memory. She had instructed him when he had recovered from the agony of the change. He was to keep up his appearances as Dark Spectre's dark warrior, doing everything he could to be certain no one noticed his change.
And he was to aid in the release of the captives on Dark Spectre's ship. She had specifically said the word captives, though at the time they had only been holding one person, Billy Cranston. She had given no advice on how to deal with the dark-souling that Spectre was attempting on the ex-Ranger, only said that all would make itself known in time. Ecliptor himself would know how to handle things when it came time for his own escape.
When he had captured Andros and Zhane, he had known then what Dulcea had meant. Their destinies lay on Earth, a place they would never have gone if they hadn't been captives of the enemy. Something special had happened while they were together, something he had never imagined could. The bonds between the captive Astro Rangers and himself had deepened and strengthened. 'Friends' was not a word that could be used - yet. But respect had sprouted, and Andros and Zhane had made their former enemy an honorary Ranger.
I'm the honorary Green Astro Ranger. He almost laughed. If only they knew where the true Purple Astro Ranger was. He knew, but had been spell-bound by Dark Spectre never to reveal it to anyone until he specifically told him to. I want to tell Andros so badly that it's Astronema. But that spell has been bound into me since I was first put into guardianship of her, and even Dulcea couldn't remove it.
"Ecliptor," it was the smooth, hated voice of Darkonda that uttered the word, and he looked to see the dark mercenary leaning up against a wall. "I heard that those other two captives escaped. On your watch again."
"I tried to raise the alarms, but they weren't functioning," Ecliptor defended what he'd done quickly. "Besides, you could more easily blame Rito and Elgar, they were the ones escorting them."
Darkonda didn't look convinced. "And just why weren't you with them? You were supposed to be. Those two morons couldn't escort an ant to a picnic!"
"I had something to take care of, they were supposed to have waited for me!" Ecliptor fingered his sword briefly, delivering a mute warning to the bounty hunter not to push this question much farther. If he somehow saw me stealing their morphers or even giving them to the others. Steel control was the only thing that kept him from trembling just then. He had to remain completely on top of the situation, or all that he had worked for would collapse.
"I see." Darkonda nodded slowly. "That will be added to their punishment for letting the captives escape. As will treachery be added to yours."
For all his skill, Ecliptor did not have time to move as the very shadows leaped up all around him, binding him in a way he could not escape from. Darkonda smiled frostily. "Dark Spectre does not appreciate those who turn against him." A dark tendril bound Ecliptor across the mouth before he could speak a single word, then he was dragged away, heading for Darkonda's lab and who knew what fate.
Normal teenagers who had the eternal task of defending against the darkness. Andros smiled weakly. "So now what?"
Ashley returned the gentle expression. "We've got a picnic here, and I think we have enough for you guys. You look like it's been a while since you'd had a real meal, anyway."
"Food!?" Zhane's eyes widened in mock shock and real hunger. "Let me at it!"
Cassie couldn't help but smile at the handsome Silver Ranger. "Come on, it's this way." She led them the couple of steps to where the picnic was spread out on a blanket, and the entire group sat down, the four originals adjusting to make way for the two newcomers as if they'd just been waiting for them.
Well, we have been, T.J. thought to himself as Ashley started once again to hand out food and drink. I could never have told anyone that I was waiting for them three days ago, but now, I can't imagine not being without them. But we're still short. We aren't complete yet. He glanced at the Astro Morpher on his wrist and felt a chill. It was for this he had come to Angel Grove, for this he had met with the others. Baseball was something fun to do, but this...this was the real meaning of his arrival.
A peal of silver laughter entered his thoughts, and he looked up to see Zhane and Cassie laughing at something or other; quite probably the fact that Zhane's face was somehow covered with cake. "You're supposed to eat that last!" the newest Pink Ranger chuckled at their alien friend. "That's why it's called dessert!"
T.J. felt almost as if ice clamped around his heart. He saw something that no one else did in that moment. Zhane and Cassie were heading so fast for romance that he felt as if he had been caught up in the backwash of it. And they don't even know it yet. He slowly nibbled on a sandwich, then felt a mild touch on his shoulder.
Carlos was beside him, and a soft, understanding expression in his dark eyes. Softly he murmured, "You like her, don't you?"
"Yeah." the Blue Astro Ranger shrugged briefly, calmly. "And she likes him, and he likes her. I know when not to argue with destiny. It brought us together...and brought them together." A brief flicker of his hand indicated not just Cassie and Zhane, but Andros and Ashley, who were involved in a quiet conversation just as intense as the Pink and Silver Rangers.
Carlos bit his lip briefly; he had always hoped for a relationship with Ashley, but just as T.J. saw his own hopes fading away, so now did the Black Astro Ranger see his vanishing as their new leader and Ashley spoke with one another. "Guess we just can't fight with fate."
"How could we?" T.J. sighed deeply and sipped his lemonade. Speaking louder than he had been, he held up his cup. "There's a custom on Earth that sometimes, when friends get together and begin something as great or greater than what we're about to do, they toast to their eventual success and to the fact that they're friends. There's a lot more to toasting than that, but it sort of covers everything. What you do is clink your cups together, calling on whatever power you believe in to witness it. I'd like to propose a toast now, to the Astro Rangers, to friendship, and to the future: whatever it may bring."
The others smiled, and T.J. held his cup up. One by one, the others clinked theirs against his. "To the future," all of them murmured at the same time. "To the future."
And to love. May we all find it someday, as Zhane, Cassie, Ashley, and Andros have.
Thousands of eons earlier, eight powers had been crafted by the mages and artificers of the space colony of KO-35 to protect it from the incursions of the dark sorcerer Maligore. The Liarian wizards had assisted in the working, lending their knowledge of power and craft. The colors of Red, Yellow, Green, Blue, Black, Pink, Silver, and Purple were chosen to channel the power, and certain things were built into each device, weapons and special abilities.
Chief amongst those abilities, and one that the Liarians had designed into the working, was a telepathic recognition that each member would have of the others. In essence, only people of certain spiritual and genetic patterns could use the Astro Power, and any one of those could recognize the others like them. The more of them there were gathered, the easier they could recognize one another. Two would feel a certain bond, such as instant friendship or even dawning love, while if there were more, a bond beyond that would be forged.
Eight specific individuals were chosen to bear those powers, with the Red Ranger becoming the leader of the team. For some time the Astro Rangers had bravely defended their world, fighting off Maligore with all their power. Then something had happened, the exact details of which were unknown even to this day, at least on the side of good.
Maligore had a brother, a twin, his precise duplicate in looks and by far his superior in magical prowess. This brother, Dark Spectre, was able to lure the Astro Rangers into a trap and capture the eight of them. Only seven ever made it back, with the Green Astro Ranger becoming lost. The Red Ranger remembered seeing his companion being dragged into Dark Spectre's private quarters, and what happened after that, no one ever knew.
While they were prisoners, each of them was aware of the fact that at some point, Dark Spectre and Maligore had both come into their cells and done something to them. Just what it was, they weren't certain, as the first act the dark twins had accomplished was to make them black out. What had happened afterwards, they didn't know, but when they had awakened, they had each been alone. Shortly thereafter they had managed to escape, other than the Green Ranger.
Not long after that, the Astro Rangers had driven the twins and their forces from KO-35, and the colony had known only peace for thousands of years after that, until recently. By then, only two of the Astro Morphers were still active. The Green was still missing, and the others were dormant, awaiting the moment when they would come into contact with the others of their team. Andros and Zhane had fought as bravely as they could to keep their world free when Dark Spectre's forces had attacked once again, but without a full or at least mostly full team, there was nothing they could do but fight, and be captured.
That hadn't been the disaster that they had originally thought it would be, however. Once they had escaped, they had landed precisely where they needed to be: with the four beings who were destined from birth to take on the power of the Astro Rangers and one day bring back peace to KO-35.
The Astro Powers? She frowned briefly, probing mentally to determine if she was right. The sensations that returned to her confirmed what she'd thought. Six of the eight Astro Powers were there. Though I would truly be surprised if they were all there. The long-missing Eighth power was the subject of much speculation and curiosity all over the cosmos, and had become almost as much a thing of legend as the indestructible Green Power Coin itself.
The Inquirian's lips bent slightly at the thought of how strange it was that Green powers seemed to be those most easily turned to darkness or lost. The Green Power Coin had been wielded by evil at least as often as it had been by good, and only now had entered a true state of dormancy. If ever it is needed, we will use it, though. She brushed her mind against it's hidden case briefly, nodding to see it was truly safe. The guards and wards put up to protect it were completely unbreakable, save by one person.
I must speak with Terry more often, Dimitria reminded herself. Her daughter had become somewhat shy and retiring in the last few weeks since her release from evil and assumption of the White Turbo powers. She and Jason were growing stronger and stronger in love, but she still appeared to not quite be the same outgoing young person she was when she had first arrived in Angel Grove. Perhaps the events had changed her...but Dimitria preferred to be certain.
Her mind returned to what was most important at this moment: the coming of the Astro Rangers. She observed them silently through the Viewing Globe, identifying two of them as the recently escaped Zhane and Andros of KO-35. The other four were upstanding teenage citizens of Angel Grove, and it was no real surprise that they were the destined next bearers of the Astro Powers.
I do wish we knew where the Green Astro Ranger's morpher had went to. After the original defeat of Dark Spectre and Maligore, the remaining Astro Rangers had searched their stronghold from top to bottom, but the only sign of their former companion was a chamber that had his initials carved into one of the walls, with a slash through them as if by mighty claws. No one could figure out what had happened, and finally the office of Green Astro Ranger was declared permanently vacant until and unless the discovery of the Green morpher founded. The title of Green Astro Ranger could now only be given as an honorary title, a choice capable of being made just by the leader of the team.
Dimitria sighed, frowning just the smallest bit behind her veil. I shall speak with them, and invite them to become part of our team here in the Power Chamber. They will need guidance, and they will definitely need a safe place to come to when they are injured in battle. It didn't even occur to her to think that they would not be joining in the battles. Dark Spectre and the new alliance had yet to launch a truly major offensive, and if the Rangers could get themselves organized and combined before that happened, it would represent a major force of resistance that might prevent such an attack before it even happened.
I must inform the Turbo Rangers, however. She emerged from her inner thoughts to look at Alpha-6, who was working on something in the Power Chamber to possibly help with the removal of the dark-soul from Billy, the neo-Phantom Ranger. "Contact the Rangers, Alpha. I must speak with them as soon as possible." She said quietly. "It is a matter of gravest importance."
His eyes narrowed. If they discovered where the Purple Ranger was, and somehow uncovered the location of the lost Green Morpher...plans he'd set in motion eons ago would fall. I won't let that happen. I might have to accomplish both halves of the spell myself with Maligore gone.
Dark Spectre frowned at the thought of the loss of his brother. The Liarans had captured and imprisoned him on the Island of Murianthus not long after they'd been driven off KO-35. He himself had just barely managed to escape a similar fate. Instead, he had fled to the very heart of the darkest centers of the universe, soaking up evil energy and magic to the point of no return and beyond, learning all the ways of darkness that he possibly could.
It had been things he had learned there that he had used in the dark-souling of Billy Cranston. If only I could overcome the resistance that one has to my power! He raged internally as he hurried to the gathering hall of the Dark Fortress, sending Quanatrons out to gather the rest of the Alliance as he did so. He would make the finest dark warrior I have crafted since Ecliptor!
That thought led him to the information Darkonda had recently passed on to him: that Ecliptor was no longer reliable, and had assisted in both the escape of Cranston and in the two original Astro Rangers. He had taken the traitor into custody and was preparing to do some of the more interesting experiments on him. Naturally Astronema had not been informed; her loyalty to her trainer might interfere.
I will have to punish Ecliptor myself. Perhaps if I can remove his self-will, yet leave him with his memories and personal desires. He chuckled wickedly to himself. That would be interesting, to have him obey my every command, but hating himself and me with every moment he exists.
Entering the chamber, Dark Spectre dismissed the thoughts and took his seat at the head of the table where everyone else was seated. Divatox, Rita, Havok, Astronema, and Darkonda were waiting for him. "You said you have news?" Rita had her hand placed on her expanding waistline, and he made a note to do something evil to the child before it was born. No child was ever permitted to grow up uncorrupted in his service.
"Yes. The Astro Rangers have encountered the other four of their group. We can assume that they will soon join forces with the Turbo Rangers," Spectre informed them. "We are going to have to make a major assault soon, something to spread them out and prevent them from stopping us in our task of conquering their world."
Divatox snorted. He knew she had conceived a desire for Cranston, and had decided to permit her to bed with him if, and when he had the Phantom Ranger permanently corrupted and under his thumb. Mating with her could produce a child of perfect evil. Something the universe has been seeking for some time. The way his thoughts went reminded him of something, and he made a note to check into it. "I have a plan, but first you must learn something. Ecliptor is not to be trusted. He has betrayed us and given assistance to the enemy. It was he who enabled my slave to escape, and the two prisoners as well."
He looked to Astronema. "I know how you feel about him, Astronema, but obey me in this: do not help him at all. Do you understand?"
The violet-haired vixen bowed her head. "As you wish, my lord."
"I still haven't been able to figure a way to get this thing off you and the dark-soul out of you," Zedd Magee, Purple Turbo Ranger, sighed deeply. "We've been examining this thing for almost an hour now, and there's nothing to give any hints."
Billy shook his head, straightening up as Zedd leaned back and took a seat across from him. "Dark Spectre said that no one could remove the collar except me: and only if I submitted fully to his powers, willingly. I've tried to take it off..no luck." It didn't really seem all that odd to him now to be sitting across from someone he had once considered one of his worst enemies.
"I think we can figure out that isn't going to happen," Zedd smiled. "We Rangers tend to be kind of stubborn on things like that."
Billy nodded, then got up to get them both drinks. Perhaps now he could ask a few of the questions that had been bugging him. "Zedd....do you ever regret...well, anything? From before?"
"When I was evil?" Zedd accepted the soda and cracked it carefully. "Yes. A lot of things. But mostly I just accept it. I wasn't in control of myself, and it worked out in the end. And if I had been free continually since the conception of the triplets, then I wouldn't have been able to help destroy that demon." He shuddered at the memory, and Billy echoed it; he'd heard the story of how that had happened.
"It's kind of hard to really believe that Tommy, David, and Terry are triplets," Billy had been shocked enough to find out the two young men were twins. Adding a third to that had been more than enough to blow his mind completely, and having Zedd and Dimitria as parents...well, he had long since ceased to be shocked about anything.
Zedd sipped at his drink and thought. In the hour since they had left the Power Chamber and started to work on freeing Billy, he had been considering just what he should tell his former enemy and what he shouldn't. Finally, he made a choice. "Billy, I'm sorry. For everything I did to you while I was evil...and especially for destroying the Power Coins."
Billy looked at his new friend, startled. "I...It's all right. You weren't doing it because you wanted to, not really. We went through the same thing with Tommy."
Zedd smiled softly, and Billy was struck at how similar the expression looked to the Red Ranger. Of course, they're father and son. "Thank you, Billy. Apparently being turned to evil runs in the family. Let's hope that with Terry, it stopped. I wouldn't want the next generation to have to deal with that."
"Next generation?" Billy raised one eyebrow; he hadn't heard anything about that! Zedd flushed just a little.
"Well, it's something I found out about a while back, just before everything with your arrival got started. It seems---" both of them paused as their communicators beeped. Billy touched his briefly.
"What is it, Alpha?"
The voice of Alpha-6 came across the device. "Yo, Rangers, get to the Power Chamber! Dimitria's got something ta talk to ya about!" Billy couldn't help but muffle a chuckle at the Brooklyn accent of the robot. That was definitely something unique.
"We're on the way, Alpha," Zedd spoke into his own communicator. "Come on, let's go see what my lady desires."
Billy smiled as the two of them stood up. As they transmuted into their component molecules, he also couldn't help but wonder if he would ever find a lady of his own. Tommy and Kim were happy together, as were Rocky and Kat, Jason and Terry, Adam and Tanya, and a dozen other couples he could think of. Why wasn't he?
It was from his previous girlfriend, Emily Cross. She had went to visit her relatives on the far side of the country, and before she had left, they had insisted that they would always remain true to one another. He had meant it with all his heart, and had thought she had meant her words as well.
But then he had received this in the mail.
I am going to be staying here to finish out the school year and go to college. My aunt and uncle are going to be taking me in. I've also met a very nice young man, and I think it would be best if you and I broke up. We are too far apart now, and since I'm going to be staying here, I won't force you to remain in a relationship that won't work. Please find someone else. We had a wonderful time together, and I still love you as a friend.
With a sigh, he leaned against a tree, crumpling the letter a little. Six months, and I still haven't really gotten over it. Being with Terry is really nice, but I can't shake the feeling that Emily is going to come back one of these days, and want to get back together.
Logically, he knew that was because of Tommy and Kim's relationship. She had broken up with him by a letter, and now they were back together, stronger than ever before. Emily had done the same thing with him, and now he wondered if quite probably she would return to him.
Would Terry accept it the way Kat did? He wondered. He didn't have to think about it that much. He knew she wouldn't. Terry wasn't really possessive, but she didn't deserve to be abandoned by him going blithely back to his old girlfriend.
With a sigh, he crumpled the letter into a mashed ball and threw it into the nearest wastebasket. He had to let Emily go, he knew. It wasn't fair to Terry to hold back any part of his heart from her, and he did love the young woman who had so blithely walked into his world and his heart.
I really must be attracted to evil, he chuckled to himself. I become Tommy's best friend after he was evil, and now I'm in love with his sister after she was evil.
"Jason?" he glanced up when he heard his name called. A smile spread across his face when he saw his girlfriend coming towards him. His eyes widened briefly at her outfit; a deep green blouse and white jeans. It was the first time he'd ever seen her wearing anything other than her signature white color since the day she'd first achieved her White Turbo powers.
"Hi, Terry! What's up? Nice outfit you've got there," she did look awesome in it, and she smiled at his comment.
"Thanks. I was wondering, are you busy tonight?" She smiled a bit weakly. It had been a few days since their last date, and she had occasionally wondered if he still cared about her...so she had decided to find out the hard way.
Jason opened his mouth to answer, then the beep of their communicator interrupted. Both of them mentally cursed their enemies or whatever else was providing the interruption for a brief second before checking in to see what was going on.
Carlos frowned. "Astro MegaShip?" That was something that his Power-granted memories weren't telling him about.
"It's the ship that was made for us a couple of years ago," Andros told him. "The government of KO-35 had figured that the rest of the team was living on some other planet, and we were planning on going off in search of you in another couple of years." He smiled weakly. "I don't think they had ever planned on searching on Earth, though."
Ashley smiled herself. She had never before been captivated by any living being the way she was by the handsome Andros. He was utterly unlike any male she'd ever met in her life, and the first moment she had set eyes on him she had known that he was the one for her. "Where is it?"
"We don't know," Andros shook his head. "Ecliptor might, if we can get in touch with him."
Carlos nodded, still a little shocked at all the recent events. He was a Power Ranger, with a group of friends that had practically been destined to join with him, and they were going to be searching for the rest of the group. "Andros, this might be kind of odd, but do you think maybe you and Zhane could go to school with us? You'll probably be here on Earth for a while, and you're really going to need to blend in."
Zhane and Andros glanced at one another. "School?" the two of them chorused. "What's school?"
The other four members of the Astro team exchanged their own glances. "I think you're going to have to get caught up on a lot of things." T.J. said finally. "School is where we go to learn things."
They slowly started to explain how things worked in their world, and their new friends sat in shock, taking it all in. This was completely unlike anything they had experienced in their time on their homeworld. Their education had concentrated completely on learning how to defend their world and nothing more.
As they spoke, no one noticed a shadowy figure watching them from behind a stand of trees. A light smile touched pale lips. Yes, my friends. Get to know one another. Become friends. It will make it all the much more fun when I destroy you. And destroy you I shall...
With a flicker of energy, the creature vanished. It had other people to watch, other plans to make, and bonds to watch form, for the mere pleasure of watching them shatter into more shards than was humanly possible. This thing was not human. Nor was it alien. It had aspects of both and of neither, was completely neuter so far as gender was concerned, and was so completely possessed of evil that had Dark Spectre ever saw it, he would have had a fatal heart attack almost at once.
As it vanished, T.J. glanced over to where it had been and frowned. I thought that I saw something. Guess not. Must have just been the wind in the trees. He went back to his food, his thoughts more on dinner than on disaster.
Once he had them captive, that was. And already a plan was forming on how to do this. "I have a plan that will eliminate the threat that these Astro Rangers pose to us," he spoke, and everyone around the conference table looked at him.
"What are you talking about?" Divatox spoke warily, still not trusting him, he knew. His resemblance to her long-gone fiance was too great for her to fully let her guard down around him. But I might be able to use that as well. He smiled to himself. That could be quite...interesting.
He rose up, his claws clicking together briefly, and an image of eight figures in Astro Ranger armor appeared in the center of the table. "These are the Astro Rangers." The illusion faded, and in it's place was an image now of a wristband with a number pad on it. "This is one of the Astro Morphers. Long ago, my brother Maligore and I had captured the original Astro Rangers and introduced...a little something...into their morphers." He laughed briefly. "That is a chapter of Kerovian history that they don't ever talk about. Assuming they even know it."
Rita raised one eyebrow. "What are you talking about?" She wasn't particularly fond of this powerful sorcerer who had essentially waltzed in here and taken over the empire she had worked so hard to forge. Deep in the recesses of her mind, he had been added to the list of entities she was going to get revenge on.
"Simple. Inside each Astro Morpher is a dormant spell. A spell of domination. It will be triggered by three certain events, that I will cause to happen," Dark Spectre appeared to be very pleased with himself. "Once the final event occurs, then the spell becomes active, and the very next time that the Astro Rangers morph..." he chuckled darkly. "They will belong to me."
Darkonda looked curious. "And just what are these events, my lord?" his servile voice belied the deep curiosity that filled him. He wanted to know just what it was that the dark overlord had planned. He knew Kerovian history quite well, and though he knew about the time the evil twins had kept the Rangers captive, this was something he'd never been able to find details on.
"That is none of your concern," Dark Spectre almost hissed the words out. "All you need to know is that I need these Rangers captured. My research has shown they are the ones that I need." His talons clicked again, and three images appeared, two in Turbo armor, one in Astro. "One has never been evil. One has been. The third could be. I need all three of them captured as soon as possible and brought here. Not only will they lead to the domination of the Astro team, but with this one's help..." a talon caressed one of the images briefly. "I can bring my wayward Phantom Ranger home as well."
Divatox nodded. "And speaking of that one....when are we going to bring him here? I know you want to finish corrupting him."
"In time, in time," Dark Spectre waved a hand in dismissal. "I am going to need a small army first, however, made up of Tengas, Piranatrons, and Quantrons." He looked at Divatox, Havok, and Darkonda. "You will capture this one," Divatox nodded as he pointed to the first image before them. "Havok, that is your assignment," the second one in Turbo was indicated. "Darkonda, if you fail to bring this one to me, then I will make you wish you'd never been born."
All three of them bowed low, knowing Dark Spectre didn't make idle threats. He continued, "The Tengas, Quantrons, and Piranatrons will provide distractions for you while you take the ones I want. They are not to be bruised or battered...too much."
Dimitria nodded. "They are in the park now, and I believe it would be best if the Turbo Rangers went to welcome them to Angel Grove. They could use assistance, and it would be a wise thing to have them working with us. If they will come, please bring them here that we might all meet."
Jason spoke up. "You'd better morph first, it would prove to them that you're actually the Turbo Rangers and not just some jokers."
"You're right," Tommy agreed. "Let's go meet the new Rangers on the block." He grinned briefly, then all ten fell into the traditional morphing stance. "Shift into Turbo!"
Ten brilliant flashes of light filled the Power Chamber, then rose out of the room as the Power Rangers Turbo teleported out. Jason and Billy glanced briefly at one another, then both sat down to await the return of their friends.
In the park, the six Astros came to their feet as they heard an unfamiliar whooshing noise. Andros' hand fell to the morpher on his wrist. "What's that?"
"Them," Ashley pointed to one side of them, where ten figures had just emerged from bolts of light. Her voice was thick with awe. "The Power Rangers."
The newly formed team fell silent as the slightly larger group came towards them. The Red Turbo Ranger spoke. "Astro Rangers?"
"Who wants to know?" Zhane tilted one eyebrow, keeping himself somewhat near Cassie. Protective feelings, even knowing she could take care of herself, were surging up in him.
"We're the Power Rangers," Pink Ranger said, her voice soft and gentle. "We came to invite you to join with us, to use our headquarters and we'll give you any help you need in your battles, and ask the same of you."
T.J. looked suspicious. "How do we know that you're not just some trick?"
The Rangers glanced at one another, then the Red Ranger touched his belt buckle. "Turbo Down!" Once again light filled the area, but this time when it faded, ten perfectly ordinary looking young people were standing there. Andros and Zhane looked somewhat impressed, while the Earth-grown members looked as if they were in awe.
"Justin?" Ashley's eyes were drawn to the smallest member of the group. She'd seen the young man around school before, and had even spoken to him a few times. "You're a Ranger?"
The Blue Ranger nodded. "And it looks like you are too!"
"Who are all of you?" Andros asked, not quite certain what had just begun to happen. He trusted his team automatically, it was built into him to trust them, but these strangers...even if they were Rangers, he wasn't certain what to think about them. But having a base...a mentor...a place to heal up after battles...and we're definitly going to need help. Dark Spectre's joined up with the villains already here, sixteen versus a few thousand sounds a lot better than six versus that same number.
Tommy held out his hand. "I'm Tommy Oliver. And we really do want to help you." He put into his voice all the desire that he had to help this new group, and a welcome to his world.
Andros looked at him for a moment, then back at his team. He could tell they automatically trusted the newcomers. They have defended this world for a while...and my friends know some of them. He slowly extended his hand. "I'm Andros."
At the Angel Grove Youth Center, Tengas flapped in, pushing tables over and knocking people around. Jerome Stone reacted as he had back when he was a cop: he grabbed a baseball bat and started laying into the invaders. Unknown and unseen by him, the invisible Bulk and Skull were also fighting, their courage enhanced by the fact the enemy couldn't see them.
Divatox watched the creatures with distaste; she'd always preferred her Piranatrons to any other foot troops, and to be put in charge of these birds left a bad taste in her mouth. Maybe I'll get lucky and the Phantom Ranger will come by, she smiled to herself at that thought. It could be quite amusing.
Elsewhere, at the more traveled regions of Angel Grove Park near the lake, Piranatrons surfaced out of the water and began to chase the visitors this way and that, using every trick they had to keep the humans from getting too far away. After all, hostages were always useful in these situations.
General Havok observed the battle with a sadistic glee. Though very cultured and proper in many ways, he was at heart a pirate and a mercenary. The thought of tormenting the captive he was sent to get, preferably without Dark Spectre's knowledge, tantalized him, but he knew better. This particular captive, the one who had once been evil, would quite probably be given to him once Dark Spectre had completed whatever it was he was going to be doing.
And once I have them...I think I want to practice some of those Salasian torture technquies I picked up a while back. Maybe even turn them to stone..that could be amusing. He smiled briefly. Working for Dark Spectre wasn't all that bad.
Darkonda was thinking vaguely similar thoughts as he watched Quantrons tearing apart the very center of Angel Grove. The three target areas were far enough apart so that the responding Rangers would not only have to split their forces, they wouldn't be able to react to the kidnapings in time once they happened. Considering how Dimitria thought, it was practically guaranteed that their particular targets would come to their areas.
I wonder what he has in mind for Ecliptor, however. He will let me perform the experiments I wish to on him, I know. But he has given me orders not to kill him, when death has always been the punishment for treachery. Darkonda wondered. Ecliptor was an enigma; he had been in Dark Spectre's service for as far back as anyone could remember, a silent enigma that had fought with deadly precision and unswerving obedience. He had raised Astronema to be the cold, calculating warrior she was, but now Darkonda, and quite probably Dark Spectre, couldn't help but wonder if she'd somehow been contaminated by his notions of honor and fair play.
The bounty hunter finally gave up thinking about it, at least for the moment. Whatever Dark Spectre chose for Ecliptor's ultimate fate, then that was what he chose. Darkonda would simply have to enjoy himself with the experiments beforehand, and possibly some of them could ensure that Ecliptor kept living, perhaps even as Darkonda's own slave. That would be a truly evil thing, and one he would enjoy greatly.
He leaned against a telephone pole, watching remotely as the Quantrons proceeded to wreck everything in sight. He was starting to almost get impatient with how long it was taking the Rangers. After all, this was a trap. How much fun was a trap when the ones you wanted simply ignored you? He tapped his fingers against his arms for a moment. Rangers. Never around when you want them.
The Astro Rangers were in awe. Teleporting for the first time (for some of them) had been an incredible experience. Andros and Zhane had teleported before, but it had been a while for them too. All six were impressed by what they saw. They had landed facing a console in which a woman garbed in white was encased in a glittering green tube, a robot was checking readouts on something, and two young human males were watching them. One of them stood up.
"Welcome to the Power Chamber. I'm Jason Lee Scott, this is Billy Cranston, and that's Dimitria of Inquirius."
The sorceress bowed her head briefly. "Welcome to the Power Chamber, Astro Rangers. It is good to see nearly your full team united, Andros of KO-35."
"You know me??" the Red Astro Ranger almost squeaked; the name of Dimitria of Inquirius was almost as famous as that of Zordon of Eltar! He didn't think he'd ever met her, but you never could be certain with sorcery....
"I know of you, and I knew your ancestors long ago," she smiled gently at him. "I am glad you chose to join with us, and I hope that it will prove to benefit both of us. You have met the Rangers?"
"We saw them," Carlos spoke up. "But no one's had time for formal introductions yet."
Dimitria glanced at the team, who all looked automatically at Tommy. He smiled. "Tommy Oliver, Red Turbo Ranger and team leader."
"Kim Hart, Pink Turbo Ranger."
"Justin Stewart, Blue Turbo."
"Adam Park, Green Turbo."
"Tanya Sloan, Yellow Turbo."
"Zedd Magee, Purple Turbo, former Lord Zedd of evil, but reformed now." He smiled at the shocked looks on their faces. It didn't surprise him.
"David Trueheart, Gray Turbo."
"Rocky DeSantos, Brown Turbo."
"Katherine Hillard, Black Turbo."
"Terry Magee, Tommy and David are my triplet brothers, and we're the offspring of Zedd and Dimitria," the last of them said, speaking her affiliation only when it looked as if her brothers and father weren't. The Astros looked as if they were far beyond shock now, the traditional look of those who discovered certain bondings between them.
Andros shook his head finally. He'd heard about the conversion and defection of Zedd to the side of good, but he'd not put much stock in what he heard in the Dark Fortress. Now it appeared things were truly happening on Earth, the likes of which he was totally uncertain of. As the last of his team introduced itself, the greetings and explanations halted suddenly with the blaring of a supremely loud alarm.
"Yo, yo, yo, we got trouble in Angel Grove!" Alpha scuttered around. "Tengas at the Youth Center, Piranatrons at the lake, and Quantrons downtown!"
Dimitria frowned. "We must split our forces then. Astro Rangers, will you aid us?" the question was stated formally, and demanded a formal answer. Andros stood up straight, practically saluting. If she'd been his old commander from KO-35, he would have.
It was completely beneath his dignity to pace back and forth, but he was giving thought to doing it anyway as he tried to think of some way to claim the Phantom Ranger that was his by rights. He had chosen the ex-Ranger, he had given him training and education and tried to teach him that evil was the ultimate way his destiny demanded of him. Yet the ungrateful brat had escaped, taking the power with him, and was probably even now trying to rid himself of the delicious darkness that his master had spawned within him.
If I could just get him close enough, then his darksoul will take over and I will have him back. But he stays always near where the Rangers can get to him, or out of my sight entirely in the Power Chamber. I should have went down when I first sensed him alone earlier this day, I would have him even now in my grip.
The overlord seethed at his oversight, then calmed himself. He cannot remain with them forever. And perhaps there are other ways. A few flicks of a talon called up the entire history of the Rangers, with particular focus on Billy Cranston. Dark Spectre's eyes skidded across each entry, each a detailed description of anyone that the young man had spent more than a few casual moments with.
Suddenly a dark smile bent his lava-lips. Perfect. This one. His hand rested momentarily on an entry for a former Yellow Ranger. He has not seen her in some time, but if the emotions were ever there, then they will be again. And I can use her to test out the new process for him. She will be the perfect weapon to bring him to me. He dismissed the thought of breeding his Phantom to Divatox. She would belong to him, it was his right after all, as heir to his brother's power. His fiance was also his property, by ancient law.
But whom to send to take this one? He looked at the entry again, then mentally cross-matched it to what he knew of the world, then nodded. "Astronema!" He raised his voice magically to be heard all over both the SpaceBase and the Dark Fortress, depending on where she was.
The young woman at once teleported in, bowing before him. "What can I do for you, Dark Spectre?"
"I need you to bring me someone, Astronema," he purred slightly. "This young woman here." He indicated the object of his intentions. "She could be very instrumental in bringing me the Phantom Ranger once and for all."
Astronema nodded, her eyes flicking over the report pulled up on the screen. "I will go at once, sire. Are there any special instructions?"
"Just bring her here. And don't let anyone see you do it," he ordered. She bowed again, then flickered away in a sparkle of purple. Dark Spectre dismissed the images he had called up, and leaned back in his throne. One claw hand extended before him, and he concentrated. With a 'pop', a black onyx appeared there, just the same size and shape as the Phantom Ruby itself. There was a faint wrinkling of the jewel, then it was set in the same sort of collar that Billy's gemstone was. Dark Spectre smiled. "The Wraith Onyx." he named it. "Source of power for the future Wraith Ranger."
He closed his fist around the collar and sent it into his personal pocketspace. He'd retrieve it later, once the process of crushing the will of his new slave was done. As Astronema and the captive reappeared, he smiled. "Welcome to the Dark Fortress, my dear. I am Dark Spectre....but soon you shall call me...master."
Reawakening? His mind reran over what he'd just been thinking, and then back to as far back as he could remember of his past. He couldn't remember being anything other than evil...then he went extremely stiff. I don't remember growing up.
He had always been aware of that fact, but it had never really bothered him or touched on his conscious mind until just then. It was something that just was, something he had dealt with and lived with. Other people had families, he had just had the forces of evil. He had the half-formed notion that he was somehow a construct, something that had been made with one purpose in mind.
Now he wondered. Where did I come from? Who am I? He closed his eyes, trying to remember and trying to think. He cast his mind back, reaching farther into his dim memory of history than he ever had before.
I am waking up....I see Dark Spectre before me....he is...laughing? I've never heard him laugh like this before, so...so similar to the way he sounded when he was breaking the Phantom Ranger. As if he'd just corrupted something that could never be returned to what it once was.
He began to shiver, wondering if this searching of his past was the right thing to do. What am I going to find out? He didn't stop, however. Something had to exist beyond that first moment of consciousness and seeing Dark Spectre, of hearing that awful, hideous laugher and knowing there was nothing he could do to fight it...so he had to join it.
The voice was a swish of light, a beacon of sanity, one he had heard only once, but now he clung to it with all his soul. Dulcea...
Yes. You are ready now. Ready to see the truth. Ready to use the power you have within to fight the enemies you have without. He didn't understand, and a feather-soft touch of reassurance ran across his mind. Come. There is much to do.
There was an emerald flash of light, and then both of them were standing before a door. She wore her usual green bikini outfit, and he looked down to find himself not in the body that had been his for longer than he could remember, he now suspected. Now he looked human, and wore a verdant-shaded tunic and trousers.
"W..what am I?" he breathed, and Dulcea laid a hand on his shoulder.
"You are very confused, my old friend, and I am going to help you," she told him. They both faced the door. "Behind here are all of your answers. Behind here is the key to your past and the key to your future. What you find will shock you...perhaps scare you...but if you do not open those secrets, if you remain in ignorance..." she left the rest unsaid, but Ecliptor nodded. Something stronger than either of them was driving him onward.
He looked at the door. "If I don't, it will be worse than if I do," he said the words quietly, then looked at her. "Will you be with me all the way?"
"Yes." Dulcea answered firmly and without question. "As much as I can be, Ecliptor. As much as I can be."
He looked from her back to the door, and squared his shoulders, an act so natural he didn't even find it odd that he was doing it with a different body. "Whatever comes, I accept it," the words came to his lips from elsewhere, some place he could not name. Slowly, with fear and with courage, he reached out and opened the door.
"I think we'd better," Justin saw a flash of red and gold from inside. "I think Divatox is in there."
They didn't even need that incentive to burst inside, truly. It just made it all the dramatic as they appeared inside, spreading out to take in the situation. Stone was still swinging his baseball bat, and it obviously amused Divatox to see him doing that, since she hadn't blasted him yet. In one corner it almost seemed as if Tengas were getting in their own way, and Tommy absently noted the presence of two very familiar shapes through his helmet. Better talk to Dimitria on that one, he thought, then turned his gaze back to Divatox.
"What's the matter, I thought your little buddies were Piranatrons. Did they all quit?" Tommy taunted her. It was hard for him to keep control of his voice around her at times; Divatox had caused quite a bit of trouble. She had severely wounded Kim and Jason's souls by throwing them into the lava pit, she had practically destroyed Terry's sense of self-worth, and had came close to causing Kat's death. Only experience kept the Ranger leader from blowing his top.
Divatox just smiled. "No, I'm just borrowing these from Rita. Some of your other friends are going to be meeting my troops..and some other friends of mine." She waved a hand, and the Tengas all stopped the damage they'd been so heavily involved in to turn to the Rangers. "Bird things....rip them apart. Except..well, you know." Dark Spectre had explained to each group of foot fighters on just who they were to avoid in this combat. Divatox watched approvingly as they swept towards four of the five.
Even being hidden behind her helmet, Tanya could tell something very odd was going on as the Tengas literally broke around her like a wave and charged at the others. "Hey!" she shouted, realizing intellectually how silly she had to look trying to get some of the creatures to fight her. "What's going on here?"
A cool voice answered her. "What's going on here is that Dark Spectre wants you, Yellow Ranger." Tanya turned to see Divatox standing behind her, all the calm cockiness gone and nothing but ice-cold determination filled the evil pirate's gaze. For the first time, the Yellow Turbo Ranger actually felt fear while looking at her enemy.
Before she could react, beams of power lashed out from Divatox's frosty eyes and exploded against her body. With a cry of agony, Tanya crumpled to the ground, automatically demorphing. She saw Divatox's boots click closer to her, and then felt a powerful gloved hand on the back of her neck. "You're nothing like what I really want to capture...but you'll do until I can get my hands on the Phantom Ranger. Congratulations, Yellow Ranger. You're now our prisoner."
As they melted away in a combined teleportation stream, Adam looked up just in time to see the departure. "Tanya!" he growled the word out, slamming a Tenga to the ground. "She took Tanya!"
"We'll get her back," Tommy's voice was strong and reassuring as the rest of the Tengas vanished. "It's pretty obvious that kidnaping her was the reason they came."
Adam bit his lip, trying to keep his anger tightly under control. They won't hurt her if they need her. But what could they need her for? "Let's get back to the Power Chamber and see if Dimitria can find her."
As they vanished, the invisible Bulk and Skull sighed. "Think we should tell them we're invisible? Maybe they can help us..." the thinner one replied.
"Not now, Skull."
I am not impressed with the cream of Angel Grove, he thought acidly as the columns of light he was waiting for finally showed up. Brown, gray, purple, black, and white. Perfect. Just who I was waiting for.
"Piranatrons, attack! You know your orders!" he shouted, watching in glee as the Rangers practically came out of teleport to see the Piranatrons swarming towards them. He smiled to himself. A perfect plan. There's no way they can fight this, and I can snatch the one I want with ease.
Rocky and Kat reacted fastest; they had the most experience out of the group, with David, Zedd, and Terry only a moment behind them. "Looks like we've got some fish to fry!" the Gray Ranger shouted.
"And I forgot my spatula!" Terry chuckled, charging quickly ahead of the others, feeling the familiar surge of adrenalin filling her entire soul.
Of course, she didn't feel quite so energetic when she realized that the Piranatrons were avoiding her as if she had some sort of disease. Why don't I like this? Memories flashed in her head, memories she had tried to block out, of another battle, of one she had lost, and all that had happened afterward. Can't think about that now. Have to fight.
Terry had blocked out her memories of her time as the Evil Green Ranger. She was intellectually aware of the fact it had happened, and that it had led to her current status as the White Turbo Ranger. But she didn't want to think about it at all. It was simply a blank spot in her mind.
"Hello, Green Ranger." the voice was male, one she had heard a few times on the battlefield, but never this close. The others were involved with Piranatrons, none of which would so much as look at her. Slowly she turned to see the general behind her.
"I'm not the Green Ranger," she bit the words out through clenched teeth. "I am the White Ranger."
Havok just laughed. "That's what you want people to think. But deep inside of you, your core is green: and full of hate. Full of anger. You can't stand what you did, can you? You don't even think about it, do you?" an unnoticed twitch of his sword cast an invisible barrier around the two of them. No one else's voice could be heard inside of it, it was just the general and the Ranger.
"You're wrong!" Terry's hand shifted a little, a flash of memory coming back to her, of a sword sharp enough to cut through the western wind, of a time when she followed her instincts and desires without the trappings of civilization and having to be 'good' all the time...the intoxicating freedom of it all swept through her, and she shivered.
Havok smiled. "Am I? Don't you remember what it was like to do anything you wanted, when you wanted?" His words, so close to the thoughts echoing in her mind, pulled a savage growl from her throat, and he taunted more. "Of course, you're just a sweet little goody good now. Couldn't harm a fly...."
Being the children of Zedd and Dimitria, the triplets had certain combined traits of good and evil. Because of their upbringing, the good had predominated most of the time. Tommy had learned to deal with both the good and evil in his life, and had long since realized he could never be turned to darkness forever. David had grown up with the shadows in his soul balanced.
Terry, however, had never quite learned how to keep herself restrained in some situations. With her own self-inflicted mental block now dissolving under strain and the insinuations of Havok, she howled in anger and charged at the villain.
The General was waiting for her, though. Quickly he moved to one side, then delivered a deft blow to the back of her head, just where the helmet gave the least amount of protection. Terry went down like a pole-axed steer, and Divatox's brother laughed. "I thought this was going to be hard!"
Andros felt the powerful sense of having a nearly full team behind him. "Let's do it!" he shouted, heading into the battle. The first Quantron he came up against was holding it's staff-sword, and the alien Ranger slammed it quickly to one side. It had been far too long since he'd been involved in a straight, decent fight, with his team and his friends.
The battle quickly spread out, with each of the Astro Rangers taking a small amount of Quantrons and proceeding to trash as much of them as they possibly could. Andros and Zhane took out two years of frustrations on the metallic creatures, while the others learned fairly quickly what it meant to be able to nearly put your fist through something.
"I think I'm going to like this Ranger stuff!" T.J. laughed over to Carlos, who was busily throwing a Quantron up and down. It was heavy, yes, but the Black Ranger could still do it, and enjoyed himself.
"I know what you mean!"
Darkonda, unseen by the Rangers, slowly examined each one. Judging by size and build...the Blue Ranger is the one I'm after. Excellent. His sword appeared in his hand. "Blue Ranger." He called out softly, dangerously. "Care to face me?"
T.J. whirled when he heard the voice, and found himself staring at something...just what it was, he wasn't certain, but his stomach twisted at the sight of it. I think I saw something like it in a nightmare once, he shuddered internally. "What do you want? Who are you?"
"I am called Darkonda," he said with a mocking bow. "Come...fight me! If you dare!"
The Blue Ranger didn't move; he wasn't stupid enough just to fall for a line like that. "Why don't you come over here and fight me?" he retorted, throwing a Quantron to the ground as it rushed by to join in the fight and slammed his Astro Axe into it.
"It really doesn't matter. Here or there, I can destroy you," Darkonda threw out one hand, a beam of energy lashing out and wrapping around the young man. T.J. struggled as he tried to pull free, but it was of no use. Darkonda smiled as he clamped an arm down on the young Astro Ranger. "And I have you now. Say good-bye to your friends! Dark Spectre has plans for you!"
A ripping sensation poured all the way through T.J.'s body, completely unlike teleporting, yet somehow like it, as reality rippled around them, and complete blackness shut itself onto the young man's mind.
On the battlefield, Ashley noticed the change the quickest as she had been fighting closest to her friend. "Where's T.J.?" she shouted, looking around. "Where'd he go?"
"He's gone!" Carlos looked over to where T.J. had been, vaguely remembering hearing a voice of some description. "I think someone took him!"
As the realization swept over them, Andros held back some of the nastier words he'd picked up over the last couple of years. "It must've been Darkonda. He's the only one of Dark Spectre's crew sneaky enough to do this without the rest of us knowing."
"So what do we do?" Cassie asked, brushing hair out of her eyes as she demorphed. Andros took a long breath. He knew all too well what it was like to be a prisoner.
"We go back to the Power Chamber and talk with the others, and hope we can get him back," he said firmly. "Let's go."
As Tommy, Rocky, and Andros spoke those words, the two ex-Rangers turned to look at their friends. "We know." Billy said quietly. "We're already looking for them."
Jason was obviously fighting to control his temper. "We were monitoring the battles. Divatox, Havok, and Darkonda took them." He flipped a few buttons and a display of each battle and capture displayed for them. "We're going to try and break through the shields on the SpaceBase and the Dark Fortress, they have to be on one of those."
The group spread out, each of the Turbos going to a particular position they had become used to over the last few months. Tommy, David, and Zedd did what they could to keep their tempers calm, as did Adam and the Astro team, but it wasn't easy. Dimitria had her magical senses on full alert looking for them, but nothing was showing up anywhere.
Things just weren't looking good for the Rangers.
"When I am ready, they will each perform the task I need of them." He nodded to himself. "And they won't even know why they're doing it." The dark crystals were designed that so long as a person was in one, their minds were completely open to his will. Perhaps if he'd tried that on the Phantom Ranger, he wouldn't now need his fourth captive.
Leaving a few magical wards to guard the place while he was gone, he teleported to the deeper chamber where his prized prisoner lay in what he termed "The Shadow Slumber". She was quiet and still, her eyes shut and dressed in an outfit he had provided, one that would make her fit in better among his troops: tight pants, shirt, and boots, all in black leather, with designs that were mystical in nature, formulated to not only keep her mind bound once the Shadow Slumber was over with, but entrance others...one certain other.
Dark Spectre nodded as he checked the progress of the spell the Shadow Slumber was placing on her. Excellent. Just what I wanted. The resistance that the Phantom had was in her too, but to a much lesser degree. I must investigate this while I can. The resistance has a taste of the Power to it. Could it be because they once were Rangers? He made a note to make a more thorough investigation once he had all of the Astro Rangers and his Phantom Ranger there. Developing a working thesis of this could be quite useful.
His prisoner twitched just a little, and he smiled. The wiping of her memories had begun. Once it was over with, she would be an empty vessel just waiting to be filled with the evil that he had in abundance. He turned to look at a small box sitting on a shelf, and touched it lightly. Within resided one of the last pieces of his brother Maligore. Once he had bonded her to that...and to the Wraith Onyx...his power over her would be complete.
Dark Spectre liked everything going his way. And everything was going his way...finally.