They were the most beautiful clothes she had ever seen. Over her life she had seen and even owned beautiful silk and satin gowns and rich jewelry for dazzling the multitudes, but these new garments outshone them all in her eyes. She'd almost fainted when she saw them for the first time. Now, alone in the guest room, she had them spread on the bed, and she sat in a chair on the other side of the room, just staring at them in total disbelief. What she was seeing was a simple, practical slate-grey jacket with matching pants and an amethyst shirt. It was a uniform, bedecked with official-looking badges to identify her, and she could scarcely believe they were there to identify her.
*A Power Ranger,* she thought in amazement. *Me, Princess Astronema. I'm going to be one of them.*
She sighed and got up. She didn't feel like a Power Ranger, that was certain, and as much as she would have loved to, she didn't feel ready to put on that uniform yet. She walked over to the bed and slipped off one of her gloves so she could touch the smooth material of the purple shirt. It felt so soft and comfortable. It would be much nicer than the steel and leather armor she usually wore. Still feeling a bit dazed, she picked up the other object she'd been given, a communicator, letting it's cool weight reassure her that all this was really real, studying its details. She caught a glint of her own reflection in its smooth back. Curious, she looked more closely. Then, setting the device aside, she crossed the room and studied her reflection in the mirror.
"I know what I need!" she exclaimed to herself.
The reflection mouthed the words with her, obviously agreeing. She gave herself a more critical look, taking in the dramatic eye makeup, bright-colored lipstick, and her long, overdecorated hair dyed in its unnatural shade of blue. The corners of her lips turned down in disapproval; all that nonsense was going to have to go.
She made a search and found a small room with a sink and some soap and washcloths. It was stark compared to what she was used to, but she would have settled for a well out back if it would get her clean, and she set about filling the basin with hot water. Steam rose up and began clouding the little square mirror in front of her, gradually softening and obscuring her reflection. That was fine with her. She went to work with a cloth and some sweet-smelling soap, scrubbing away the mask she'd been wearing for so long. The activity was reassuring in its simplicity and homeliness, and she entertained a brief fantasy that she was an ordinary teenaged girl from Earth, just like Ashley and Cassie.
*... "Karone, your date's here!"
"Just a minute, Mom!"
She finished washing her face and rubbed away the mist on the mirror, appraising her reflection. Good enough, she decided. She'd deal with her hair in a minute, and then she'd see to her clothes...
In minutes, she was walking downstairs, dressed in a shimmering dress of soft lilac, her hair caught in a sparkling clasp and strands of pearls at her throat. Zhane was at the front door waiting for her, dressed in his best and looking as resplendently perfect as he had when they had first met, holding a bouquet of a dozen perfect red roses. He smiled as he saw her and called a greeting, and as she came closer, he drew her into his arms for a kiss...*
Karone splashed her face with a final handful of warm water and reluctantly abandoned her daydream for reality, at least momentarily. Zhane wasn't here right now, and when he did show up, he'd probably be more than a little annoyed with her. She could only hope he'd forgive her...
*One thing at a time,* she told herself. *Right now, I have enough to do learning how to settle in here and get along with the other Rangers. When he comes back, then I can talk to him. I'll apologize, and he'll forgive me. I hope he will.*
She went back to the main part of her room and inspected her reflection in the unfogged mirror. The removal of the makeup was a definite improvement, but it only served to emphasize how unnatural her hair looked. She began undoing the various bangles and decorations, discarding them in the wastebasket, and began running a brush through her hair to undo the tangles she'd gathered during her hectic day. There were twigs and leaves in it from her jungle adventure on Yutoba, and the whole thing was generally a mess. It would be hard to take care of, she decided, without servants to look after her. Well, then, she'd trim it. Ordinarily, she would have used magic to alter her hairstyle, but she still wanted the feeling that she was making a genuine change, not just another assumed disguise. She'd had enough of trying to be someone she wasn't. It was time to commit herself to the truth... and she could always make a magical adjustment if she messed up. She rummaged around in a drawer and found a pair of scissors.
Snip, snip... the first sapphire locks fell to the floor, making curled, runic shapes on a steel-silver background. She glanced down at them briefly, realizing that she'd never really had a haircut before - not a real one. It had always been magic that did the job for her.
*I could develop an aversion to that, after using it for so long, and for so many trivial things or things that were just wrong. But... Zordon uses magic, and Dimitria and Ninjor and most of the champions of Good. The Power Rangers use magic, in a way - morphing magic. I wonder what it would be like to use that kind of magic?*
Her eyes turned back to her mirror, carefully guiding her hands in the directions she wanted, snipping off curls of hair bit by bit, letting her mind wander as the past merged with present and future in a vision of what could have been...
*...She didn't notice the heat of the jungle as she pressed forward, following her brother and the other Rangers, glancing over her shoulder from time to time, checking for dangers. They had seen the telltale footprints of Pirhanatrons in the soft earth, and there was no way even the rather empty-minded fish creatures could have missed the sound and sight of the Astro Megaship landing nearby. They were in danger of being caught at any moment, and that could only lead to an ugly battle, but this mission was too important to just give up on. Zordon was somewhere on this planet, and the fate of the universe could depend on whether or not they found the sage before their enemies found them.
"Are we getting close?" she asked T.J., who held the scanner.
"Don't worry, we're almost there," he assured her. "Just a few more minutes and we'll be in the clear."
Karone nodded. A few more minutes, and everything would be all right. Surely they could get just a little further without being seen...
"And just where do you think you're going?" cackled an unpleasant voice.
All the Rangers turned as one to face the speaker, and none were surprised to be looking into the sneering face of Darkonda.
"You again," said Karone coldly. "Get out of here, before we have to make you leave."
"Ah, the Purple Ranger thinks she can scare me," Darkonda chuckled. "We've got an old score to settle, and now's not a bad time to do it! You may have escaped me on KO-35, but you won't escape me now! You belong to the side of evil, and that is where you will go!"
"Never!" Karone shouted back. "I'm a Power Ranger, now and forever, and nothing can ever make me change!"
"Oh, you think so, huh?" asked Darkonda, unimpressed. "We'll just see about that. Pirhanatrons, attack!"
The fishy warriors leaped from the shelter of the trees and bushes to surround the Rangers in a copper-green mass. Karone fought them with every ounce of strength she had, whirling like a violet tornado. Somewhere in the background, she could see her comrades doing the same, and Andros was going toe to toe with Darkonda. Suddenly, she found an opening in the melee and dove through, making her way in the direction they had been heading.
"Keep running!" Carlos shouted. "Go find Zordon!"
"Right!" she called back.
She turned back to the path, sprinting for her goal as fast as she could, feeling the resistance of the air and watching the trees speed by. Suddenly, there was a flash of movement, and the path was suddenly blocked by a dark figure who stared at her with deadly red eyes.
"Face me, Karone," he said in his stern voice, and Karone could only stare helplessly back at Ecliptor, unable to fight back...*
She shook herself, partly to see how her new haircut lay, but mostly just to clear her mind of the daydream. That was an uncomfortable image, and she didn't want to have to face it in such a raw state. Later, later, later would do. She turned her attention to her reflection and was mildly pleased by the job she had done. Now, if only it wasn't blue...
So, it was back to the bathroom to run another basin of hot water and search for some shampoo. She found a bottle of clear amber liquid that smelled sweetly of flowers, and she soon had a pleasing cloud of white bubbles that gradually turned blue as the dye began to wash out. The air was warm and steamy, perfumed with the scent of exotic blossoms, and she closed her eyes and took herself away...
*... She was back in the jungle, feeling the hot, humid air against her skin. She was alone and demorphed, but that was all right. The battle was over, and the jungle was actually peaceful now. Exotic flowers bloomed, filling the warm air with their sweet scents. She walked slowly, enjoying the peace, trying to avoid the reason she had come there for as long as she could...
"Karone," a voice greeted.
She turned around, not surprised. "Ecliptor."
"You came back," he said. There was a request for information imbedded in that statement.
"I couldn't leave you," she said. "I mean, I know I did, but I didn't mean to leave you forever. You understand, don't you?"
"Why did you have to leave?" he asked her with pain in his voice. "I did everything I could for you. I loved you as I would have loved my own child. What were you missing?"
"I'm sorry, Ecliptor," she said. "I didn't mean to hurt you. It's just that... Andros really is my brother, the one I've been looking for all my life, and I need to be with him. I need my real family, and friends. The other Rangers have all been so kind to me, even after everything I've done. I know I'll learn to be happy with them. And... I think I'm in love with the Silver Ranger. My life is with the Power Rangers, not with evil. I had to leave."
Ecliptor paused for a long moment. Then, at last, he nodded.
"I can understand," he said. "I think I always knew it would happen someday. I'm not angry with you, so don't be afraid of that. I fought to help you make it to where you are, and you know I'll always protect you. You will always be my beloved daughter."
"And you'll always be like a father to me," she replied...*
Splash! She ducked her head underwater for a moment to rinse out the last of the shampoo, and then came back up again, blinking drips out of her eyes. The water was let out of the sink with a glug, and she set to work drying her hair with a convenient towel. Still, there was only so much drying that could be done in the steamy room, so she stepped back out again and went to finish the job with a comb and hair dryer. She was pleased to see that there was no tint of blue left in her hair. All that unnatural darkness had been washed down the sink.
*I wonder if they'll be annoyed with me for wasting water?* she pondered. Probably not, she decided as she set about straightening her now golden hair. This was as worthy a cause as anything she could think of.
*I'm changing so fast,* she thought. *This morning, I was an evil supervillainess, heir to the Dark Specter's throne and arch-enemy of the Power Rangers. Now I'm one of them. I feel like one of them. I'm even starting to look like one of them!*
She grinned and surveyed her reflection in the mirror again. A touch of light makeup, nothing more, and some clips to hold back her blonde tresses. She studied the face that looked back at her for a long time, surprised at what a great change she'd undergone in such a short period of time.
*Metamorphosis,* she though, eliciting another grin. *I'm a Mighty Morphin Power Ranger!*
She couldn't help laughing at that, truly and freely. Things were
to be good from
now on, she thought. Still smiling, she went to change her clothes, so
could finally join her