Author's Notes: I'm not a doctor, nor have I ever claimed to know much of anything about medicine, so please forgive any mistakes of that nature.
My e-mail addy is firstname.lastname@example.org if you want to send me any comments, which would be much appreciated, about the story.
"Andros." Zhane looked at the odd assortment of things in his hands. "Where are you going?"
"The Simudeck. I... have a date with Ashley."
"That's great, man. See you later," he gave Andros a big smile, which was returned, as Andros headed in the opposite direction towards the Simudeck.
His mind returned to his dilemma, and the smile melted off his face. Today wasn't a day for smiling, at least not for him. He leaned against a wall and closed his eyes. There it was again. He couldn't deny it any longer. He needed to know for sure. He walked into the Medical Bay, where Alpha was waiting for him, and sat down on the cot. "DECA. What are the locations of the other Rangers?"
"Andros and Ashley are on the Simudeck. Carlos is in his quarters. Cassie is in the engine room. T.J. is not on the Megaship." DECA informed him.
Zhane nodded. "Keep me appraised of their locations, okay DECA?"
"Of course, Zhane."
Zhane turned to Alpha. "We'd better get started, then." He stretched out on the cot, let Alpha strap him down, and closed his eyes.
How did it ever come to this? Just a few months ago I was yanking their leashes making them think I was dying. Now, I might be seriously ill. I might have even had this then, except that I didn't know it. He sighed, and thought about the problems he'd been having lately. His vision fading until all he could see were blurs, then everything becoming so sharp that it hurt his eyes. His skin becoming so sensitive the very air felt like sandpaper, then loosing his sense of touch almost completely. His other senses also had been unreliable at times. Plus there were the aches that didn't match any injuries he could remember sustaining. All in all, it made him very nervous. He had just come out of hyper-sleep after a serious injury. He didn't want to have to go back into it anytime soon. Never would be even better.
"T.J. has returned to the Megaship and has joined Cassie in the engine room." DECA stated.
Alpha passed another scanner across his body, resulting in a tickling sensation that he strove to ignore. His chest was bare, as his shirt would have interfered with the delicate scans that Alpha needed to make, but it was uncomfortable, as his skin was again becoming hyper-sensitive. Zhane took deep breaths, and turned his thoughts inward, in hopes of ignoring the discomfort.
Astromena was the first thing, or should he say person, that came to his mind. The beautiful Princess of Evil that had captured his heart. It didn't take much to remember that time by the campfire right after he'd rescued her from her irate monster. How delicate she had looked when sprawled on the ground unconscious. How she'd looked right after she'd tasted his rather bad, which he readily admitted, cooking. The look of delight on her face when she'd eaten the marshmallow. How fierce she had looked when she'd pointed her staff at him. So many contradictions. It was hard to believe that she was evil at times.
And then their attempt at a date. That had gone less than well. He'd been late, thanks to the monster Ecliptor had sent, and she had taken offense. Being blasted didn't matter that much to him anymore, it was the fact that she told him she never wanted to see him again that had really torn a hole in him. At that moment, he'd almost believed that if she'd blasted him with a killing blow, he would have almost welcomed it. But that had quickly passed. He had a job to do. He snorted in his mind. To guard this world, and the entire galaxy, for that matter, from the forces of his love, Astromena. And although it hurt him inside every time he had to go out and fight, he accepted that it was necessary. Not that he'd actually seen Astromena since then. She'd been keeping away from him, not showing up on the battlefield at all since their encounter.
Zhane winced slightly as Alpha took a blood sample to test. At first, he'd thought his pains had just been psycho-somatic, the results of him feeling so much emotional pain over Astronema that his body translated it into physical pain. But as they got worse, and he'd resigned himself that he'd never see her again, he'd grown suspicious of the pains, especially when his body started to betray him. Luckily the others hadn't noticed yet, and if he had anything to say about it, they wouldn't for a long time to come.
Alpha shuffled around the medical cot, finishing up the last of his tests, and released Zhane from the binders. He sat up, grabbing the satin shirt from the table. The others had started to think he was being vain, as he'd been wearing a lot of soft fabrics like silk and satin lately, instead of his usual uniform. The truth was, when his skin got sensitive like it had been a lot lately, it was the only thing he could stand to wear, as the uniform felt like burlap against his skin. Carefully buttoning it up, he watched Alpha analyze the results of the numerous tests he'd performed.
"Ai yi yi yi yi..." Alpha moaned softly.
"So, what's wrong with me, Doc? Do you know?"
"It says that the nerves in your brain are misfiring, resulting in your senses acting up. But as for the pains, I'm not finding anything wrong with you. I'm still missing the results from your bloodwork, though. It's going to take the computer about an hour for a complete workup of just what's in your bloodstream.
"So, meet you here in an hour?" Zhane asked. "And don't tell the others anything until we know more. Okay?"
"Yes. Oh, ai yi yi yi yi..." Zhane smiled grimly, and left the medical bay, heading for his quarters. He could do with some time to think.
She sighed and rolled over, burying her face into the pillow, her purple hair billowing around her. Why does everything have to be so complicated...? she moaned to herself. I guess I'll just have to confront him, so that this can end. A decision finally made, she rose from her bed, and sat down in front of her mirror, returning her locks to their former glory. Now all she had to do was find a way for them to be alone.
Not now... Nevertheless, he grabbed his digimorpher and joined the others by the jump-tubes.
"What's going on?" he asked Andros.
"There's a monster on the surface, as well as a bunch of Quantrons. We'll take the monster. The Quantrons are yours." They morphed, as they headed out the jump-tubes to their Galaxy Gliders. Zhane blinked, then morphed as well and headed down to the surface.
He was immediately swarmed in Quantrons, but soon they were being sent right and left with his powerful punches and kicks, making them crash onto the ground or the trees. There was shortly nothing was left of them besides scrap metal. Brushing his hands together with victory, he was about to go help the others when an arrow with a message rolled around it landed in the tree beside him. Immediately thinking of how Astronema had contacted him last time, he grabbed the arrow and unwrapped the message from it.
It held the exact same message as the one he'd gotten for their disaster of an attempted date from a few months back, "Meet me by the campfire at five o'clock," but the way it was put together was completely different. Just black words on white paper, nothing more. Well, he'd be there on time this time. The monster was once again skyscraper size, so he headed back to the Megaship to get ready. And no long-stem roses this time...
Before he could get ready, however, there was the small matter of seeing Alpha about his test results. He teleported right up into the Megaship's medical bay, where Alpha was waiting for him.
"So, did you learn anything?" Zhane asked.
"Ai yi yi yi yi... The tests show that you have something in your system... It... appears to be breaking down your cells at their structure. It's like nothing I've ever seen, or DECA either. I'm currently scanning medical databases in hopes of getting a match, so we can figure out what to do about it."
Zhane sighed. "Alright. Just don't tell the other. I don't want them to know about this."
"But why not, Zhane? You should let them support you."
"No, Alpha. I have to do this alone. I don't want to worry them unnecessarily."
"But what about...?"
"When they thought I was dying? That was different. It was a joke, and once it was over, it was over. End of story. This..." Zhane swallowed. "If we find a cure, then there's no reason to worry them needlessly. And if we can't... then it'll just make the waiting period shorter." Zhane sent Alpha a warning glance. "Promise me, Alpha."
"I.... I..." he stuttered.
"Promise him what?" Ashley asked as she entered the medical bay, a nasty looking bruise on her face.
"Nothing," Zhane said, glancing at Alpha deliberately. "That's one mean looking shiner, Ashley. Think I need to have a long talk with my best friend?" he asked.
Ashley snickered. "No, that's not necessary, Zhane. Thanks for offering, though."
Zhane left the bay, his smile dying. Not in the medical databanks? The Megaship had an excellent collection of information. In our line of work... We'd better. Which probably means... that it's an obscure problem... That won't have an easy solution. Entering his quarters, he quickly got ready for his date. There wasn't much time, and he certainly wasn't going to be late twice.
"Hello, Astronema. It's been a while," he greeted her softly with a small smile.
"Hello." He seems so... subdued. Not at all like his usual exuberant self. I wonder if something is wrong... Why should I care?!? She quickly squelched all nice thoughts about the man in front of her. She was here to settle herself, so she could go on in her life.
"Want a marshmallow?" Astronema blinked. She hadn't even realized he'd had the sweet gooey confections until he'd offered her one. She gave him a wide smile, and carefully pulled the treat from the offered stick. Her smile was full of youthful joy as she bit into it, making Zhane grin.
"Thank you," she said after she'd finished it, and gave him another smile. She then schooled her face back into its regular neutral fa‡ade.
"Why don't you have a seat? Stay awhile?" He patted the ground beside him. She looked at it with suspicion, but sat down, arranging herself carefully.
What am I doing here? What can I ever hope to accomplish...?
"I'm assuming you had a reason that you asked to see me again, especially after so long...?" Zhane asked softly.
Astronema looked at him, searching for something, anything, that said he was trying to be tricky or deceitful. Anything that would help her hate him. But there was nothing. "I... I..." Great. Stutter, why don't you!
Zhane gave her a compassionate smile. "This is starting to drive you nuts, right? This... longing? You want it to go away? And you're hoping that this will make it?"
How did he know that...? "Yes, I... How..."
"I've been feeling it too. But we've been bound, you and I. So, we have two choices, in my mind anyway. We can keep ignoring it, live with that longing until it goes away on it own, and I think I can safely say that that won't happen until we stop fighting each other. Or..."
"Or?" she asked anxiously, her face betraying just how much this had been bothering her.
"Or we can do something about it. Be together. Hope it fizzles out that way, since time apart obviously hasn't helped. After all, we are mortal enemies. Maybe we'll learn we can stand each other." He looked at Astronema intently. "Although somehow I doubt that one too," he whispered, almost too quietly for her to hear.
"So what do we do now?"
Zhane picked up her hand and rubbed the top of it soothingly. She looked down, surprised. It had been... a very long time since someone with soft hands had touched her. "We play it by ear."
"What does that mean?" she asked, confused. Zhane's brow furrowed until he realized what he'd just said.
"I've spent too much time on Earth, if I'm picking up their sayings. I mean that we'll just do things as they come along. Let our instincts guide us." He rose to his feet, helping her up as he went. "Meet me here tomorrow, same time?"
"Sure," she said softly. Zhane gave her a smile, and headed off into the forest. Astronema grabbed her staff, glanced back after him, and teleported herself back to the Dark Fortress.
Sighing, he entered his quarters, and stopped dead when he saw Andros sitting in one of his chairs.
"What are you..." he said, confused.
"Doing here, Zhane? I'm waiting for you."
"Why?" he asked cautiously.
"I want to know what's wrong. You've been serious all day. That's not like you."
"It's just..." Zhane sighed, trying desperately to find something credible to say without telling him the truth. Then an idea hit him, he did a little quick math, and sighed again, an even sadder sound than before. It would be today... "Do you know what today is?"
"It's..." Andros paled. "Oh, Zhane, I'm so sorry. I'd forgotten. I'll leave you to grieve in peace." Andros quickly rose and left. Moisture began to build in Zhane's eyes. What a day. I find out that I'm probably dying, and what else could happen with something eating away at me like that, that Astronema wants to learn to hate me, and to top it all off, it's the day my parents were killed. A perfect day. At least before, I could pretend...
Zhane quickly stripped and got into bed, and buried his head into the pillow, hoping that his emotional pain would be abated by some sleep.
Come on, Zhane,> he told himself. Why mope around? If you're am going to die, you might as well enjoy what time you have left. No more moping around about something you can't change. What is that old Earth saying? Carpe Diem? Seize the day? Well, that's what you're going to do from now on.
Plans made, Zhane smirked, and got out of bed. He had a lot to do before the others woke up.
Now that the details of his possible death were taken care of, it was time to quit moping around and have some fun. He'd need to go shopping for a present for Astronema, and without the girls. They could drive a Ranger to Evil with their shopping craziness, Zhane thought with amusement. And since the only concrete thing to do today was meet with Astronema at five, he'd be free to spend some time with the other Rangers. Carlos had mentioned something called 'Laser Tag' which he'd hoped to play today. That should be interesting.
He rounded a corner, and almost collided with Ashley. His faster reflexes made it so that she took the hit, but then one of the wall mounts took him out a moment later.
"Seen Andros?" he asked casually. Ashley gave him a look.
"A few minutes ago, yeah. That a way," she pointed to where she had come from, then promptly shot him with her just re-enabled gun.
"What..." Zhane sputtered, then smirked. "Never trust a woman," he said with mock seriousness, then headed in said direction. Ashley giggled, then went to find another target to shoot.
Zhane spotted Andros walking ahead of him, and was leveling his gun at the back target of his pack when his fingers started to go numb.
"Not now..." he whispered, and tightened his grip. He squeezed off a shot, disabling Andros, then slipped out of sight, barely managing not to drop his gun. He could barely feel the heavy pack on his shoulders anymore, or the cloth rubbing against his skin. Holstering the gun, he slipped into a corner and leaned against the wall, breathing deeply. Just as suddenly as it disappeared, his senses returned to normal. Zhane sighed with relief, grabbed his gun, and took someone one out before they got him.
I love this game... he thought to himself as he kept moving, dismissing the brief attack from his mind for the rest of the game.
"Silver Blast in first place, with Red Comet a very close second." Ashley said proudly. "Followed by Black Water, Yellow Hammer, Pink Cloud, and Blue Ziggot." Ashley made a small face at the last, as if to question 'Blue Ziggot?' They'd all had their Ranger colors in their names, but decided not to use Rangers names since it might arise questions with they proficiency in which they played. "Trailing behind him by quite a few points is Armageddon. We cleaned house, guys."
The others grinned at TJ's response, especially since he was last of their group, but TJ was like that.
"Seventh place!" they all heard someone growl. "How the hell did I end up in seventh place!"
"That must be Armageddon... He doesn't sound too happy."
"Come on, guys. Let's go to the Surf Spot for some food. I'll buy since I lost." TJ waggled his eyebrows.
"You're on!" Cassie hooked elbows with him, and they group headed off to have some more fun, plus fill their empty bellies.
She tried to distract herself by moving some of her Ranger pieces and Quantrons around. I really have to make Zhane one... DAMN! There's that name again! Sighing, she moved the figure of Ecliptor away from the Red Ranger back to her side. She'd beat the Rangers, and destroy the Silver Ranger, whatever the cost. And she'd ignore that aching wrench inside her that told her she shouldn't even think of harming a hair on his head.
"It is currently 4:06pm."
"Thanks." A little under an hour to get ready for his 'date' with Astronema. After much deliberation, he decided a gift wouldn't be appropriate, and since she didn't like flowers, he'd just make sure he had plenty of marshmallows on hand. Along with a few other treats. Ashley had introduced him to chocolate a few weeks ago, and now she called him a chocoholic, but he just couldn't help it. The Synthetron had never made anything that good.
Getting off the bed, he looked in the mirror, and grimaced. A quick hop through the refresher, tame the hair, and change. That should give me just enough time to get to the campsite without being late. And being late was something he planned on never being again.
"Hello," she said quietly as she sat down beside him.
"Hello, Astronema." Zhane flashed her a smile. There was a moment of silence, as neither of them could think of something appropriate to say, when Zhane blurted out "Do you have a nickname?"
Astronema blinked, then shook her head. She fidgeted a little, then realized she was being ridiculous. Talk to him! About... anything!
"So..." she started, then trailed off. What do I ask while keeping away from the whole 'He's a Ranger and I'm trying to conquer the planet he's protecting' issue? "Have you done anything interesting lately?" Astronema kicked herself inside her head. Of all the general questions...
"Actually, yes," Zhane replied. "Carlos introduced me to this game called Laser Tag today..." He continued on, telling her all about the game, how it worked, how he'd won, everything except his little problem with almost dropping the gun. He then went on the tell her about his experience rollerblading, and of falling over a dozen times. He broke the ice, and soon Astronema was giggling over his stories, her face alight with joy. After he finished talking about his day, he encouraged her to tell him about hers.
"I didn't really do anything..." Astronema lowered her eyes, really not wanting to say she'd spent the day plotting how to destroy him and his friends. "What do Earthers do on dates?"
Zhane blinked at the sudden change of topic, but went along with it. "Go to the movies, restaurants, game-type places, that sort of thing. Why?"
"Maybe we could go on a normal date."
"Well... maybe... But you don't exactly blend in..."
Astronema scowled, and gave him a semi-evil smile. "I can look like a human if I put my mind to it... So?"
"Alright. How about Friday night? There's a movie playing in Angel Grove that we can go see together."
"Agreed." Astronema frowned. Zhane's smile seemed a little strained, and he almost looked like he was holding his sides in pain. "Are you alright, Zhane? You look like you're... in pain..."
"I'm fine. Friday night," he confirmed, then rose and teleported away.
Something isn't right with him... But for the life of me I don't know what... She sighed, realizing she'd never understand the male gender, and left the campsite to return to the Dark Fortress.
"DECA," he said hoarsely. "Get Alpha here... I... need... him..." Zhane staggered over to the cot, and sat down, swaying. It hurts so much...
"Zhane! What's wrong? Can I help?" Zhane heard Cassie ask as if from very far away. NO! They can't know... Not yet...! Luckily for him, the attack was abating. He felt Cassie put her arms around him, trying to turn him so she could lay him down on the cot.
"I'm... fine, Cassie. I was just a little dizzy, is all," Zhane gave her a reassuring smile. "Nothing to worry about." Cassie didn't seem convinced, but let it go. The others rushed in a moment later.
"What's wrong?" Andros asked. "Zhane, are you okay?"
"Yeah, I'm fine. Just a small case of dizzyness that looked like something worse to Cassie." Andros gave him a relieved grin.
"That's good. I was almost worried there for a second." Andros gave an unrepentant grin, which made Zhane swat at him.
"Thanks a lot," he said dryly, as he got up, managing to conceal a grimace. All evidence of his attack had vanished, save for the ache in his bones, which hopefully a good long bath would soothe. "I'm going to relax for a while. You have fun at your movie."
"Maybe we should stay," Ashley suggested. "If you aren't well..."
"I'm fine," he repeated for what felt like the dozenth time. "Now get going. Its not often you get time to relax."
"Okay... But call us if you feel any worse."
"It was just a case of the dizzies, Ashley. I'm not ill." Liar. He gave them another smile, then headed for his quarters, running into Alpha on the way.
"Is everything okay, Zhane?"
"Yeah, Alpha. It cleared up. But..." Zhane checked to make sure the other Rangers weren't around, and leaned in to speak to Alpha quietly anyways. "See if you can figure out what causes those attack. Maybe we can find a way to stop them or at least lessen their impact. Another attack like that..." Zhane shuddered.
"I will, Zhane. But take care of yourself."
"Of course." Zhane gave Alpha a smile, and slipped into his quarters. He immediately flopped onto the bed, exhausted. Acting like he was fine took a lot out of him. How much longer can this go on? I can't tell them... I just can't! But I can't hide it much longer either... Secrets are so hard to keep on a place like the Megaship. Something is going to have to give... And I'm just worried that that something is going to be me. Zhane slipped into an uneasy sleep, bath forgotten for now, and dreamed of Astronema.
"Yesterday afternoon," DECA informed him calmly.
"That information is classified." Andros blinked.
"Okay, now I know something's wrong. Zhane sealed his medical records."
"Can you get into them?" Ashley asked, putting a hand on his shoulder.
"No," Andros said, sounding very frustrated. "Zhane and I each have codes to seal information out from each other. It made being so close easier." Andros swore in Kerovian. "We *have* to find out what wrong with him."
"Maybe Alpha knows," Carlos suggested. He turned to leave the Medical Bay to find him when Alpha walked into the bay and almost right into Carlos.
"Alpha! Do you know what's wrong with Zhane?"
"Oh, ai yi yi yi yi... Yes, Rangers, I do... But he made me promise not to tell!" They could all tell that Alpha was torn.
"Please, Alpha. We need to know what wrong with Zhane. Is he sick?"
"Very sick, Rangers. I haven't been able to identify what is it yet, but we think that it's probably a fatal illness." The Rangers were floored by this, and Andros leaned against the medical cot, trying to get himself together.
"Do you know how long he has?"
"No, Rangers. It could be anywhere between a few days to months or even years. There's no way to tell."
"He wasn't going to tell us, was he, Alpha?" Alpha just shook his head. "Damn Zhane. Always hiding when he could use my help." He looked at the others. "Our help," he amended.
"And he will get our help. Whether he wants it or not," Cassie promised firmly.
"We won't let him die alone, or without searching for a cure."
Andros smiled at them all. "Thanks guys. Zhane's the only family I have left, besides Karone and you guys. I couldn't stand to loose him. I'm going to go talk to him."
The others all nodded and Ashley gave him a kiss on the cheek. "We'll all get through this, especially Zhane."
Andros smiled, and went to the sleeping Silver Rangers quarters. He opened the door without opposition, and discovered Zhane sprawled on top of his covers, deep asleep. A small smile came to his lips, and he moved to make Zhane more comfortable by removing his boots.
"Sleep well, Zhane," he said quietly. "Tomorrow, we'll have a nice long talk." Giving Zhane one last one look, he left Zhane to sleep and returned to the others.
"It's only seven o'clock! Poor guy..." Cassie murmured
"Whatever happened earlier must have worn him out... Damn... We'll have to keep a closer eye on him."
"We will, TJ. Don't worry. We will." Andros gave him a look, and then they all started searching the medical databanks of various planets looking for a match to Zhane's illness.
He was more than a little worried about how he was going to recognize Astronema in human garb. She could be... anyone. But she'd wanted her appearance to be a surprise, so she hadn't let him see her beforehand. He just hoped they wouldn't miss the movie because he couldn't identify her.
"Hello, handsome," a female voice said from behind him. Startled, he whirled around to face a beautiful girl with blond hair wearing a sundress.
"Hello," he said uneasily. If Astronema catches me flirting with another girl, she'll toast me five ways from Sunday! "Look, I'm waiting for someone..." his voice trailed off as he looked at the girl more closely. Her features looked so familiar... Like he'd seen her before... and her smile... "Astronema?" he whispered, so low that only if she'd known what he was saying could she have understood it. Grinning from ear to ear, she nodded.
"Do you like my dress, Zhane?" she asked, twirling around to show it from all sides.
"It's beautiful, but it pales in comparison to your beauty." Astronema blushed.
"Flatterer." She took his hand. "We've going to miss the movie if we keep this up."
Zhane grinned, and walked with her to buy their tickets. "My treat," he told her, as he placed the money he'd gotten from the other Rangers at the ticket counter. He led her inside, and got into line for some refreshments.
"Would you like some popcorn?"
"Popcorn?" she asked, confused.
"You'll like it, I promise." Once they reached the front of the line, he ordered a large popcorn and two large sodas. He handed a soda to Astronema, after poking a straw into it.
"Come on." He headed towards their theater, Astronema shyly walking beside him. "I'd wait to try the drink until we're in the theater."
"It's a little startling the first time you try it, and I don't want you to drop it." Zhane gave her a heart-wrenching smile, and showed her to a good pair of seats inside the theater.
Astronema's curiosity was now truly piqued. After settling herself into her seat, she took a careful sip of her drink, almost dropping it when the carbonation touched the back of her throat. Zhane helped steady it, and rubbed the hands that held her drink.
"It's..." she paused, took another sip, then grinned. "Interesting."
"Here, try some popcorn."
Astronema picked up one of the kernels and popped it into her mouth. Her eyebrows rose at the taste. Her eyes then went to the curtain as it started to rise.
"Yeah. First there's the previews of the other movies, though." Astronema nodded, then almost choked on her drink when the first preview was for a power ranger knockoff film.
"Rangers are nothing like that..." she said faintly to Zhane. "Or their villains..."
"Just chalk it up to another Hollywood over-dramatization."
Zhane sighed, realizing just how much of Earth's culture he'd absorbed during his short stay here. "I'll tell you later. The film is starting."
The two let themselves be taken away by the romantic film. Their hands often brushed while reaching for popcorn, and Astronema was starting to blush from the attention. Zhane, feeling the need to get closer, pulled his arms up in a quick yawn, then draped his arm behind Astronema's shoulders. She turned and blinked at him, but then gave him a shy smile and snuggled into him. The movie went far too quickly for Zhane's taste after that. Very soon, the movie was over, and they were walking out of the theater.
"That was... beautiful." Astronema sounded very confused.
"Want to go back to the campfire for a while?"
"Yes, I'd like that."
Zhane put a hand on her shoulder, leading her from the crowds, then they walked quietly side by side to their secret spot.
"Something's bothering you. Can I help?"
"The movie was... beautiful. Touching... And so romantic."
"Yes, it was," Zhane said. "Is that a problem?"
"The problem is," she said harshly, "that I'm evil. The movie should have disgusted me. But, it didn't." Astronema curled up into a ball, looking for all the world like a lost little girl.
"Maybe you aren't evil?" he suggested.
"Of course I'm evil," she snapped at him. "I've always been evil. My family was evil."
"Your family?" Zhane asked softly.
"Yes. They were killed when I was just a small child. Killed by Power Rangers, along with my brother." Astronema clutched her locket in her hand.
"Rangers... have been known to kill evil beings..." Zhane said slowly. "But they would never kill a boy, not even if his parents were evil..."
"They did. Ecliptor told me so." Astronema opened her locket and looked inside. "My brother... My locket is the only thing I have left to remind me of him..."
"Can I see?"
Astronema looked torn, but finally let him see inside the locket. What Zhane saw took his breath away.
"It can't be..."
"What? Tell me!"
"I've... seen those pictures before," Zhane said weakly. "They're in a locket worn by a man who is constantly searching for his missing little sister." Astronema looked stunned.
"Who is it? Who is this man?"
"My best friend, Andros. The Red Space Ranger." Astronema sucked in a breath in denial.
"NO! My brother can't be a Power Ranger!" Astronema got up and started to pace, trying to reconcile what Zhane had just told her. Zhane weakly slid to the ground behind her. An attack had come out of nowhere, and his ribs hurt so much that he could barely breathe. His vision turned his surroundings into big blobs of color, while his hearing fine-tuned until he could hear the robins in the trees from miles away. Astronema turned around, and saw Zhane sprawled on the ground. She ran over to him to try and help.
"Zhane? What's wrong?" Panic gave her words a sharp edge.
"Hurts... Have to... contact the others..." Zhane tried to get to his communicator, but passed out. Astronema hesitated a moment, then hit the button on his communicator for him, teleporting them both up to the Megaship's Medical Bay.
Alpha was in the Medical Bay, and started when Zhane and a human Astronema arrived in the Medical Bay.
"Ai yi yi yi yi... Zhane!" He helped Astronema put Zhane on the medical cot, and started to scan him, hoping to revive him. Astronema, meanwhile, slipped over to the medical console, downloaded all the information they had on Zhane's condition, and teleported back to the Dark Fortress.
Alpha turned around to thank the girl who had brought Zhane home only to find her gone. That set him off into another round of "Ai yi yi yi yi..."s.
Hyperaction and numbing of the senses, unexplained pains without apparent triggers, and decay of the cells she thought as she outlined the main symptoms of Zhane's condition. Realizing that she was out of her depth, she called up her private database of information. Along with all the Dark Fortress's usual information, there was a huge medical library of human illnesses. The fact that she was human had often been a disadvantage, as humans were a lot more susceptible to disease and injury then most species, so she had compensated for this by being ready to strike down any problems before they got out of hand. And this database would help her discover what was wrong with Zhane.
It was several minutes before the computer gave her the answer she was looking for. Zhane had managed to get the eighth Kerovian virus that Dark Specter had created for KO-35 during the long war. But... Virus #8 was never released because it was too long acting. It took years to establish itself in a host, then years again to kill. It only seemed to thrive in extreme... COLD! Zhane's cryosleep! It made the virus strong, and probably only emerged recently, and is sweeping through his body. But that still doesn't explain why he got it...
She started checking to see if there was a cure to the virus. It didn't help that it had never been given a formal name... Finally, she found a cure on a B-61 in the Bekowa system. She immediately teleported herself there, not even thinking that Ecliptor would find her behaviour suspicious.
"Here, Zhane," Alpha said as he handed him a glass. "Drink this. It will make you feel better."
Zhane cautiously drank the contents, then exhausted, laid back down on the cot. "How did I get here, Alpha? Did one of the other Rangers figure out I was in trouble?"
"No, Zhane. A girl brought you up here, then vanished before I could thank her. Who was she?"
Zhane blinked, stunned. Astronema had brought him here, where she was an enemy? To risk so much... Think about it, Zhane. If Astronema was in the kind of condition that you were in, would you bring her to the Dark Fortress, to try to get her help? Well, maybe not... But it's not quite the same situation. They would kill me on sight, while Rangers never would. And the others wouldn't have recognized Astronema in her human form. But I'll still have to tell her just how much this means to me when I see her again.
"Zhane?" Alpha asked timidly. "Are you okay? You never answered my question..."
"Which question?" Zhane's mind felt like it had been through a blender. He asked me a question? Oh, right! About Astronema... But what to say? He was saved from having to figure that out by Andros and Ashley entered the room.
"Zhane! How are you, buddy?"
"Alright... I've been worse." Andros raised an eyebrow.
"Remember that time when I caught the Phorxian Flu? My body was aching, and then I went into battle. After we got back, I swear that I thought I was dying, I was feeling so awful." Zhane shook his head. "And I still get nauseous thinking about that concoction that the medic gave me to make me feel better. It was almost worse that the Flu... And that's saying a lot!"
"Zhane, are you sure you're okay? You seem to be... somewhat incoherent..." Ashley asked tentatively.
"I'm going to be fine. I... I just need a little time."
"Time is something of a precious commodity for you right now, Zhane. But alright. You should get some sleep." Andros looked at his best friend with concern.
"I will. But not here. These cots are uncomfortable!"
"Need help getting to your quarters?" he offered.
"No, I'm be fine..." Zhane stood, and then staggered forward a few feet. "Then again... I'd love the help"
Smiling slightly, Andros looped Zhane's left arm over his shoulder, and let him lean on him during their trip to his quarters, and as soon as Zhane's head hit his pillow, he was out like a light.
Ashley was waiting outside Zhane's quarters when Andros exited.
"He's asleep. Whatever has a hold on him is sapping him of his energy. I don't think we have much time left to find a cure."
"Then we'll just have to work harder to find it." Ashley mouth thinned with determination, as the two headed for the Medical Bay. It was time to search some more for Zhane's cure.
She walked across the street into the busy medical building of B-61. Being of various sorts walked passed her as she headed for the main desk.
"Excuse me?" she asked the green haired lady sitting behind the desk. "I need to see a doctor well versed in the battle viruses of Dark Specter." The lady looked at Astronema levelly, then directed her down several halls towards a doctor called 'Draketsha'.
Upon entering his office, she was unsurprised to see him hanging from the ceiling. She had suspected that he was from an arachnid-based species.
"I was hoping you would know the cure to the eighth Kerovian virus." she said without preamble.
"Rrrarrre virrrusss..." he hissed. Astronema grimaced internally. He would speak in a hiss... "Do you have the perrrsssonsss medical hissstorrry?"
"Yes, I do." She handed him the datacard, which he inserted into his computer.
"A Rrrangerrr..." he hissed in surprise.
"And he acquirrred the virrrusss durrring the Kerrrovian Warrr?"
"That's our theory. I was hoping you could confirm my diagnosis and inform me about a possible cure."
"Thisss inforrrmation cerrrtainly ssseemsss to indicate that it isss the eighth Kerrrovian virrrusss that isss our missscrrreant." He tapped a few keys on his computer. "And he isss at a verrry late ssstage of the dissseassse. He mussst ssstarrrt the trrreatment immediately if he isss to sssurrrvive."
"What is this treatment?"
"A combination of an inhaled medication for the attacksss, an orrral medication forrr the prrroblem with hisss sssensssesss, and a topical crrream forrr the diminissshing of the disssessse in hisss body. I will wrrrite how to ussse them down forrr you, and you can get the medicationsss frrrom my nurrrsssse."
"Thank you, Doctor." The alien doctor quickly typed in the instructions on how to cure the disease, which was very lucky since Astronema hadn't understood much of what he'd been saying. The doctor handed, er... clawed her the instructions, plus the prescriptions, and directed her to their pharmacy. She thanked him again, left the room, scanning the information as she went.
Why are Bekowan cures so complicated? One drug for the attacks, another for regulating his senses, and the third to actually work on the virus itself. And a medicine to be worked into the skin? Only a Bekowan could have thought of that. From what it says here, he'll have to have it applied daily until the virus subsides in his system, and since he's so far along, he might have to have it done for the rest of his life. Poor Zhane...
She arrived at the pharmacy without any hassles, and handed the nurse on duty the prescriptions. She hoped she had enough of the galaxy script on her to cover the bill. The nurse handed her the medications in a bag.
"How much is it?"
"Free of charge, ma'am. Anything to help a Ranger."
Astronema blinked. "Thank you." She felt strange saying it, but she didn't know what else to say. She left the building in a bit of a daze. Strange, how much respect they have... And without fear to back it up... Astronema cleared her head, and slipped into an empty alleyway. She had to get back to the Dark Fortress, and away from all the goodness that seemed to surround her lately. You're evil, Astronema! Act it! The inner pep talk didn't help, though, as she headed home, eager to give these medications to Zhane so he would get better.
"Like you did yesterday? If that girl hadn't been with you, and I'm still waiting to hear just who she is, then you'd still be in this clearing, writhing in agony."
Zhane sighed, and dropped his chin into his hands. His last attack had scared the others so much that they didn't want him anywhere alone except on the ship where DECA could monitor his vital signs. So, when he'd wanted to leave the ship so he could meet with Astronema, it had been met with firm refusals.
On top of everything else, they'd been hounding him about Astronema's identity ever since Alpha had told them that she'd teleported them to the Megaship with him unconscious. Andros had lectured him for almost an hour about keeping his identity a secret from the humans they were protecting, then demanded to know who she was. What was he supposed to tell him? 'Well, Andros, you see, I've been seeing Astronema, Princess of Evil, and she's really not that bad once you get to know her.' He told Andros that, and he'd probably be confined to the Medical Bay with the others adding mental problems to his long list of symptoms.
Zhane took a quick look at his watch. Five after five. He'd give Astronema another twenty minutes, and then return to the Megaship. It was getting cold...
"Who's your friend, Zhane?" Astronema was leaning against a tree, trying not to be hostile to Andros. A backpack was slung over her shoulder, and her hair was pulled back into a ponytail.
"This is Andros, my best friend." He turned to Andros. "Okay, she's here now, so you can leave."
"You promised, Andros... And she knows, so just..." He make an upward movement with his fingers. Andros sighed, but knew when he was beaten, so he hit the button on his communicator which teleported him back to the Megaship.
"He didn't want to leave you alone?"
"My last attack almost killed me. If you hadn't teleported me to the Megaship, well, I certainly wouldn't be walking around right now. I'd probably be comatose."
"You found a way to calm the attacks?"
"Yeah, we did, and... you don't seem too surprised about this. You should be spouting questions about what's wrong with me, but you seem to know exactly what's wrong. How is that?"
Astronema gave him a smile. "I lifted your medical records while I was on the Megaship, and I have a match to your illness." She sat down.
"You do? What is it? Is it curable?"
"It doesn't have a formal name. It was the eighth virus created for use by Dark Specter for the Kerovian war, so they call it the eighth Kerovian virus. You probably caught it going through one of the labs testing it on KO-35, since it was never in actual use."
"Not used? Why? It seems pretty effective..."
Astronema smiled grimly. "It takes years to establish itself. The only reason you got it now and so badly is because you were in cryosleep. The virus does very well in extreme cold."
"And a cure?"
Astronema tossed him her backpack. "In there. I got it on B-61, in the Bekowan system, but they were the only ones who had developed a cure. It should work."
"Astronema..." Zhane whispered, astounded. "Thank you!" He wrapped his arms around her in a tight hug. Astronema, surprised, blinked. She'd never felt anything like this before. She hesitantly put her arms around Zhane. The two held each other for precious minutes, until Astronema pulled away, no longer able to stand the contact after such a long period of abstinence.
"You're welcome, Zhane. I'm glad you aren't going to die." She stood to leave.
"Don't leave, Astronema. Please, stay?"
"I should go. I've been away from the Dark Fortress so much that Ecliptor is going to start to suspect something. Here tomorrow, same time as always?"
Astronema gave him a shy smile, and teleported back to the Dark Fortress, leaving Zhane with his supplies. He grabbed the instructions, and started to read them. An inhaler in case of one of my attacks... That's a good thing to have. A pill to get rid of the extremes in my senses... Sounds good. A... cream?... for the removal of the virus? Damn Bekowans... Why can't they make anything simple? 'Massage cream into the skin of the face, hands, back and feet once a day until virus has been eliminated. Works best in conjunction with light magic. May turn skin green for half hour after exposure.' Green! Zhane sighed. Perfect. And how am I supposed to reach my back? I'll have to get one of the others to help. Just what I wanted. Zhane got to his feet, slung the bag over his shoulders, and teleported back up to the Megaship. Alpha should check the medications over, to make sure that the doctor or pharmacist hadn't done anything to them. He didn't even think that Astronema might have done something to them.
It's really going to work! I'm not going to die! However, he had yet to tell the others. Having to explain to the others, or even Alpha having to explain, exactly how this cure worked was embarrassing to him. So, he hadn't started it yet. He was hoping Astromena might have some ideas. Well, you've certainly gone about face. She still is your mortal enemy, remember? And you're asking her how to help... Zhane sighed, but with a silly grin on his face. I need help...
"Hello, Zhane," came Astronema's bright voice. Zhane turned and gave her a big smile.
"Hi!" He walked over to her and wrapped his arms around her human form. "I want to thank you again for all you've done for me."
"It was nothing..." Zhane could swear that she was blushing! "I... just wanted to help. Have you started the treatment yet?"
"Ummm.... No, I haven't actually. You see..."
Astronema frowned. "Zhane! You don't have any time to waste! You need to start it immediately." Her lips pursed. "Take off your shirt and boots. We might as well get started."
Zhane blinked, a little stunned at her ready offer to help him. "But, it said-"
Astronema cut him off. "I know what the instructions said. Now take off your shirt before I take it off you myself."
Zhane grinned. "Now would you really?" He leered at her, but took his shirt off. He sat, and pulled off his boots and socks while Astronema pulled the medication out of his bag.
"Carrying it with you?"
He shrugged. "Like you said, time is short. I wanted to have it on hand once I needed it."
"Well, that was smart," she conceded, as she coated her hands with the heavy green cream. She sat in front of him, and pulled his foot into her lap so she could work properly. Zhane struggled not to squirm as she massaged the cream into his ticklish feet.
"So..." he said, trying to distract himself from the feeling of Astronema touching him. "Have you thought anymore about what I said? About your brother?"
She stilled her movements for a second, then started to rub the tendons in his foot again. "A little. The thought that my brother could be a Power Ranger was somewhat startling, and unwanted. But... I've accepted that it might be possible. I'd want some proof, though." She'd finished his first foot, then realized that the cream needed to fully set, so she couldn't put it down. She settled for bracing it against a log with none of the affected areas in contact with it, and took his other foot.
"Like I said, he carried a locket with the same pictures as yours. And he has several holovids of you and him together. He's shown them to me a few times since we became friends."
"And they weren't made up to match my locket?"
"Astronema, how could they have? None of the other Rangers have ever seen your locket, and I only saw it for a few moments. Not enough to be able to recreate it." Astronema nodded, realizing the truth in his statement. "Why don't we see him later, together?"
"Very well. But he'd better not try anything." Her voice was cold, but Zhane could hear the hope in her. She obviously wanted her brother to be alive, even if that meant her brother was a Power Ranger.
She put his second foot beside the other on the log, and re-coated her hands with the medication. She moved behind him to work on his back. The muscles were pronounced, but not unnaturally so. He was a living masterpiece... Stop that! You're doing this to help him, not to ogle his body! Nevertheless, she found it hard to ignore the rippling muscles under her hands as she worked the medication into his skin. Talk to him about something! Distract yourself!
"Are we taking our relationship kind of fast by human standards?"
Zhane started. He'd started to grow drowsy under her soothing touch. "It depends on what you mean by human standards. If you mean for here on Earth, then yes it is a little fast. But for a Kerovian relationship, it's very slow."
"Slow?" Astronema was clearly startled by this answer.
"We... have a type of relationship that Kerovians call Tiacnams, or I suppose soulmates would be a good translation. Two people see each other, and there is a recognition, that this is the person you are meant to spend your life with. After the meeting, there is rarely more than three months later that the two get engaged. The drive to be together is very great."
"But... I'm not Kerovian."
"If Andros is truly your brother, as I believe him to be, then you are."
"And these... soulmates? They... fall in love?"
Astronema's hands slowed, trying to take in all the information. She couldn't deny it any longer. She loved her mortal enemy, the Silver Ranger, Zhane of KO-35. She glanced at his back, and realized that she'd finished her task without realizing it. She moved to take his hand into hers to work on it.
"And there's no way to counteract it? To... not be soulmates?"
"Some have tried. Tried to be apart, or tried to hate each other. But... it was too strong. The separation just made the bonding all the more tight, to keep them together, and hating each other was futile. They just couldn't."
"So... Where does that leave us?" She placed his hands on his lap, finished as she was with them, and hesitantly started to stroke the medication into the planes of his face.
"I'm not sure." Both were silent as they thought about their predicament. Astronema finished applying the last of the medication, and let her green hands fall to her lap. His skin was a green tone, but his feet were already returning to normal, so it didn't last long. Zhane yawned, suddenly unable to keep his eyes open.
"I'm sorry. I..." Astronema hushed him.
"The medication makes you drowsy. Why don't you have a nap?" She pulled his head down until it was comfortably cradled in her lap.
"Thanks, Astronema," he whispered as he fell into a deep sleep.
"You're welcome, Zhane." She stroked her loves hair as she glanced up at the sky. What am I going to do now? I can't keep going the way I have, being evil up in my Dark Fortress, then being... not evil... with Zhane. I have to choose! And that, she suspected, would be the most difficult decision she had ever made. To either go on with her life as it was, but with a gaping hole in her heart that she would feel for eternity, or to turn from the only life she had ever known to be with a man who was her mortal enemy.
Zhane slowly returned from slumberland a long while later. Astronema was still cradling his head in her lap, and stoking his hair with her soft fingers.
"Astronema? Is everything okay? You look troubled." Zhane tried unsuccessfully to hide a yawn.
"I'm fine. I... just have a lot of things I needed to think about. How are you feeling?"
"A lot better, actually." He grinned. "Guess it works, huh?" Zhane looked up at the sky. "How long was asleep?"
"I'm not sure. I wasn't keeping track of the time."
Zhane looked at his watch. "Eight o'clock? Some nap..." He grinned sheepishly at Astronema. "Guess I was tired..."
"Don't worry about it. However," she stood carefully, helping Zhane to his feet. He swayed a moment, then steadied himself. "I have to return to the Dark Fortress. I'm being missed."
"And I'm thinking that's not a good thing."
"No, it's not." Astronema looked at Zhane. If there's a possibility that I need to end things with him, I know what kind of memory I would like to have... Decided, she moved towards Zhane, and put her hands on his shoulders. One of his hands came up to softly rub the skin of her cheek.
"Here tomorrow at five like usual?" he asked softly, his mouth slowly moving towards hers millimeter by millimeter.
"Why don't we be daring and meet at four instead?" Zhane chuckled.
"As you wish, milady..." His breathe caught in his throat as he moved closer to her. Hesitantly, their lips met. Sweet fire raced through both of them at the sweet contact. Zhane's hand moved up to cradle the back of her neck, while Astronema wrapper her arms firmly around him. They continued to kiss for several more moments, until they had to separate to be able to breathe properly. Astronema moved back a few paces, panting softly.
"Until tomorrow..." she said in a breathy voice, and teleported away.
Zhane cautiously touched his lips, worried it had all been a dream. But no, he could still almost feel her essence around him. It had happened. Giddy, he grabbed his things that were strewn around the clearing and teleported right up to his quarters on the Megaship. He needed time alone, or the others would question the idiot grin currently pasted on his face.
Her little problem had been revolving around her brain since she'd left Zhane yesterday. And she wanted to have an answer by the time she saw him tonight. So, she put together a bag of things she'd need for the day, summoned a monster and told him to wait for Ecliptor's orders, and made a holovid of orders for Ecliptor. That done, she transmitted it to Ecliptor's computer, and left the Fortress.
She landed on a beach in Angel Grove. It was deserted at this time of night, which suited her fine. She needed a lot of time to think. She changed herself to human form, something she had been doing a lot of lately, she realized, and sat down in the sand. The mind wandered over all the good points and the bad points of each of her two courses of action until her head spun. You need to put all this in perspective. Perhaps a list of the good points and bad points of each in writing would help me keep it all arranged.
She pulled out a small computer, and started working. Soon, she had two lists, one of good and bad points of staying on the Dark Fortress, and the other good and bad points of becoming a normal human and being with Zhane. She compared her two lists, and sighed. The good points for being with Zhane was the shortest of them, but it was the one that pulled her the most. It was what she wanted the most, but it was also the choice that scared her. The Dark Fortress and life there was known to her. Life here on Earth with Zhane... She didn't know if she could do it. Be a normal human being after what she'd lived through. And she didn't even know if Zhane wanted her. Sure, he spent time with her now, but... Forever? That's what she wanted.
Astronema supposed that the first step would be to break away from the Dark Fortress and Dark Specter completely, and build a life for herself here on Earth. A little magic and she'd be all set to live here. Her magic would protect her, and she'd just have to be careful in case that Dark Specter decided that he wanted her back.
She glanced up at the sky, surprised that the sun was high overhead. She'd been sitting here for at least eight hours, and had never noticed the sun rising in the sky.
She stood, brushed the sand off her pants, and started walking towards Angel Grove. She'd already taken everything of value from her quarters, so there was no reason to return to the Dark Fortress ever again.
Things are going to change. I'm no longer who I was. Whoever said change wasn't a good thing?
She paused just before she entered the clearing. Something was wrong. She slowly moved forward, and saw that Zhane had morphed and was being attacked by Ecliptor and a squad of Quantrons. She gasped as Zhane went down from a rather light blow from one of his many opponents. He was still very weak from the virus, and couldn't take this kind of abuse. She quickly summoned her staff, and changed back into her Astronema, Princess of Evil garb. She strode on onto the scene.
"Ecliptor! What are you doing? Quantrons! Stop!" The Quantrons, confused, stopped attacking Zhane. He, having used up all his energy, simply crashed to the ground, exhausted. "Well, Ecliptor? I'm waiting!"
"I... We saw that the Silver Ranger was alone and not well. Since you weren't on the Dark Fortress, I mounted the attack myself. It was the perfect opportunity!"
"You will leave the Silver Ranger alone from now on!" Astronema started to pace in front of him, then stalked over to the fallen Ranger.
"Astronema, are you feeling alright? You are acting... very strangely."
"I feel better than I have in a long time, Ecliptor. I'm free." She gave him a smile without a hint of evil in it, as the Rangers arrived. "You could be free too, Ecliptor. You just have to try." So said, she glanced at the other Rangers, and not wanting a confrontation at that time, simply teleported herself and Zhane away. The others looked in consternation at where they had disappeared from. Ecliptor and the Quantrons took this as a good time to leave.
"Where are they! They just vanished!"
"We'll find him, Andros. I promise!" The Rangers teleported back to the Megaship to start the search for Zhane.
"Shhh..." he heard Astronema say. "Slowly. You were hit hard."
Zhane glanced around, and noticed he was still wearing his Ranger armor, although it was sans helmet. He powered down, and groaned as fresh waves of pain went through him.
"Where are we?" he whispered.
"My new home. Here," he took his hand. "Maybe this'll help." He felt a tingling sensation in his hand, and then his pain abated. He looked up at her, stunned.
"What did you do?"
"I just gave you a little of my energy. It helped to heal you. I didn't want to risk it while you were still morphed, though." Zhane gave her a smile, then looked around himself. They were in what appeared to be a single-room dwelling. It was fairly large, with separate bedroom and living room areas, and was rather beautifully decorated.
"This is your home?"
"My new Earth home." Astronema bit her lip. "I've left the Dark Fortress, and my life as the Princess of Evil. I'm... going to be a normal Earther now. Or at least, I'm going to try to be."
Zhane looked at her, stunned, then grinned. "You are?" He felt like shouting his joy off the rooftops, except he was too tired. "Astronema, that wonderful! I'm so happy!" He pulled her into a tight hug, and kissed her. "I'm so glad," he said after they parted so they could breathe.
"I was worried you wouldn't like the new me. I'm... trying to put my old life behind me. To be a new woman. I was wondering... Does Andros's sister have a name? A name that maybe I could use?"
"Yes, she does. It's Karone. And I'm sure Andros would be glad that you would use it. Actually, I think it's time you meet Andros as his sister." Karone bit her lip.
"I don't know, Zhane. He saw me teleport you away as Astronema. He might be hostile towards me."
"Trust me. Andros has been trying to find you ever since you went missing. Can I contact him and let him come here?" Karone finally nodded reluctantly, and sat down on the couch, twisting her hands together. "It'll be alright, I promise."
He brought his communicator up to his lips. "Andros, come in."
"Zhane, where are you?!?" came the immediate response.
"Someplace safe. I want you to join me, alone. There's someone you need to meet." Zhane could almost sense the bickering behind the scenes. He supposed his request did sound rather suspicious, but the meeting just couldn't wait any longer.
"I'll be right there. Except... Zhane, you're in a shielded location." Zhane looked at Karone, surprised. She blushed, then touched her staff. "Shielding is down." Andros sounded very surprised. "I'm on my way." A few seconds later, Andros arrived, morphed.
He looked around himself, saw no opponents or evidence of a trap, and demorphed. He looked at Zhane, who was sitting on the bed. "Who did you want me to meet?"
Zhane stood, and walked over to Andros. "I want to introduce you to your long-lost sister." Andros's eyebrows skyrocketed, as he looked at the young woman in front of him.
"I've always had this locket," she said while fingering it nervously. "I'd been told that my brother had been killed, and this was my only link to him." She opened it and showed him the pictures inside. "I showed it to Zhane, and he recognized the pictures, and said that you wore one like it."
"I do," he said brokenly, as he pulled the locket out from underneath his uniform. He opened his to show the identical pictures. "You really are my sister." He smiled, and gave her a hug. "Karone." He pulled away. "Where have you been all this time?"
"This... might be hard for you to swallow, but... I was Astronema." Andros was shocked, and stumbled away from her.
"She isn't evil anymore, Andros," Zhane said for the first time in a while.
"I guess I broke Dark Specter's control over me."
"You took off with Zhane earlier after your Quantrons attacked him."
"No! Ecliptor was acting without my orders! I would *never* hurt Zhane."
"We're Tiacnams, Andros."
Andros was again shocked. "I... I need time to digest all this. But..." he looked at Karone. "I know that you're really my sister. We'll talk later."
Karone nodded, happy that he was so accepting towards her, as he teleported away. "Do you think he really does believe me?"
"Yes, I do." Zhane turned to her. "How come there's shielding around your home?"
Karone flushed. "I was worried that Dark Specter might come for me, so I put up shielding. It makes scans think this is just empty space, and doesn't allow any but my teleportation to get in or out."
"But.... I thought Dark Specter gave you your magic powers."
"No, he didn't. They were my own. They always were." She grimaced. "That's probably why he wanted me. I need to give you your medication."
He grinned. "Trying to get me out of my clothes?" he asked as he shucked his shirt. She just hit his shoulders as she started to massage the medicated cream into his bare feet.
"We take it one step at a time. But..." He paused as he moved to a sitting position. "I do have one request."
"That you become my wife." He held out a beautiful Kerovian engagement band.
She looked at him, stunned for several minutes, until Zhane started to worry he'd misjudged her feelings for him. She then shook her head, and threw her arms around him. "Zhane! Oh, of course!" She started to cry. "I just never dreamed that... I didn't think you'd..." She was so happy she couldn't finish her sentences.
Zhane grinned. "How could I not? Do you remember the Kerovian marriage customs?"
"Just that engagements last ten years."
"Don't exaggerate, Karone. It's more like three or four. And I want you to really be sure about marrying me. It's a big step. And we're young yet. There's lots of time ahead of us. Especially now that I'm not going to die anymore" Karone gave him a watery smile, then frowned.
"I don't have a band for you!"
"Don't worry. Andros had been keeping your family bands. You can ask him later on about them." Karone relaxed. The Kerovian bands were an extremely important part of their ceremony, and she didn't want anything off about theirs, when the time came.
"I love you, Karone." Zhane laughed. "I just realized I'd never actually said that out loud before. Karone just shook her head. "I love you with all my heart and soul."
"And I love you with all my being. May we be together forever."
"We will be. I promise." Thoughts of Dark Specter and his possible
revenge for her treachery momentary came to her mind, but she banished
them. That part of her life was over, for good. Nothing would ever
separate her from Zhane again.