There's nothing like the experience of a sunrise from space. Astronauts from all eras and countries agree, it's the most breathtaking sight known to man. Andros had seen hundreds of them in his lifetime, over more planets than he could ever hope to count, but the sight still held him in awe.
He was sitting on DECA's observation deck, watching as the light crept slowly over the Earth below him. It was strange how empty the Megaship seemed, after two weeks of having laughing, arguing, and just generally noisy passengers. But their voyage was over. Zordon was safe, Darkonda was ousted, and the Rangers were home.
Home. Andros was momentarily startled by the power of the feelings that word evoked. KO-35 had been home, and after it was destroyed, he had never thought he'd have a home again. Home was an image inextricably linked with the friends he had lost. Deanara, Bran, Daithi, Saoirse- and Zhane. Without them, how could he ever have a home again?
Then he'd come to Earth, and met four humans who didn't take no for an answer, and refused to let him fight alone. TJ, Cassie, Carlos, Ashley, they'd wormed their way into his life so gradually, he hadn't realized how much he depended on them until it was far too late to change. But, all of a sudden, he hadn't wanted to change. He was tired of being alone, and so he had let them draw him out of his shell, back into life, and slowly, their home had become his.
No, that wasn't right, he realized. THEY had become his home. Andros was suddenly reminded of something Peter Venkman had said during the party, when Rocky had mentioned how good it was to be home.
"Home is great," the psychologist had agreed, "but it's not a place. The most beautiful house in the world is cold and empty if there's no one to share it with. Home isn't a place- it's the people who are there, the people who love you." It was a surprisingly deep remark from the Ghostbuster, who generally tried to appear as shallow as possible. But all of the heroes who had remained on Earth seemed more reflective that day. The Shadowborg had apparently given all of them a great deal to think about.
Well, that wasn't confined to the Earth-based teams, either. Andros had a lot to think about now, too. Like Chris Sterling, the new Silver Ranger. It had been so strange to see the Silver powers in action again, even if they weren't REALLY the originals. Those were still in cryogenic suspension with Zhane, irretrievable. Idly, Andros wondered if his friend was aware, through those powers, of what was going on. If so, Andros thought he'd be pleased. Despite his different personality and background, Chris had proven himself a valuable part of the team.
Then there was Darkonda. The Mephistan had stirred up a lot of bad memories for Andros, and the young Kerovan doubted they had heard the last of him. People like Darkonda always turned up for more.
Andros sighed, stretching. Well, he wasn't getting anything done, watching the sunrise. Rising, he headed for his quarters. He had things to do, and he'd better start getting ready.
It was hot. Normally, on a day like this, TJ Carter would be at the municipal pool, splashing around with his friends and generally having a good time. But he had too many things to think about, and so he was currently sweating in the batting cages that stood on one side of Angel Grove Park. Pounding the stuffing out of the baseballs that the pitching machines tossed him always made him feel a lot better.
Compared to some of his friends, the trip had been pretty uneventful for him. Well, if you excluded his short stay in the brig of the Dianth Clan flagship. The thought of what might have happened to him still sent chills down his spine, but the adventure had turned out for the best. Daystar was going to be an excellent friend for the Rangers, and Parker O'Neil seemed to like her a lot.
Still, he hadn't had nearly the problems that the Turbo Rangers had. Fred's description of Shadowborg had nearly given him nightmares, and he could tell that a lot of the older Rangers had a new respect for the Turbo team. That had never been a problem for him, perhaps because he had grown up almost idolizing the Power Rangers. Whatever age they were, he saw them as heroes, even the Turbos, who were a year younger than he was.
For him, the trip had been a blast. The planet Danata had been a very interesting place, and he wished they could have spent more time there. The Zarakin were his kind of people, and they certainly knew how to throw a party. TJ chuckled, remembering some of the "offers" he'd received after the Rangers' victory during the festival.
Then there was Chris, the new Silver Ranger. He liked the guy, and it was obvious that he was the only person Chris felt comfortable around. TJ supposed he could understand that. Considering Chris' feelings for Ashley, it was pretty obvious why the new Silver Astro Ranger didn't want to be around her or Carlos. And Cassie and Andros were just too distant a lot of the time. He and Chris, on the other hand, shared a lot of the same interests. TJ thought things were going to be very interesting for a while.
The hum of the pitching machine suddenly startled him out of his thoughts. It was out of ammo, which meant that he was out of time. Looking down at his watch, he winced. If he was going to get home and get a shower, he'd better get moving.
Cassie Chan looked up from her diary as the sounds of the party filtered up from downstairs. Over the quiet, polite conversations, she could hear her mother's laughter, light and silvery, like tinkling bells. Marianne Chan had carefully cultivated that laugh, a laugh that was "appropriate" for a lady. And, Cassie thought to herself, one that was as artificial as a plastic rose. There was more real emotion in _Alpha's_ laughter, and he was a robot!
She didn't know what she'd expected from her homecoming. Whatever it was, though, it wasn't what she got. The first words her mother had said after Cassie's two-week absence weren't "Where were you?" or "Are you all right?" No, they were "Do you think I should wear the pink dress or the champagne?" They'd been headed to a party, and hadn't been able to deviate from their busy schedule long enough to ask why she'd been gone for two weeks.
That evening, Cassie had cried herself to sleep, realizing at last that NOTHING was going to make things better. She knew her parents loved her- at least, she thought she knew it. No matter how much they cared, though, she knew they'd never be able to show it. They were just too wrapped up in their own lives to ever notice hers.
And the strangest thing was- it was beginning to hurt less. Part of that was surely due to the Rangers becoming her family, of course. Pain was always lessened by sharing it with others. But part of it was just- acceptance. Her time in the Caves of Alshar, during their quest to prove themselves to the Morphin Masters, had shown her that she didn't have to define herself by her relationship with her parents. She could be herself, and for once, she liked that idea. Now she had Ashley, Carlos, TJ, and- Andros.
Cassie shifted slightly, thinking of the enigmatic Kerovan Ranger. She knew he cared for her- on a team like the Rangers, it would have been blatantly obvious if he hadn't. What she didn't know was if he had the same feelings for her that she had for him. She'd seen flashes of- something in his eyes, but whether it was just friendship or something more, she couldn't tell.
With a sigh, Cassie lay back on her bed. It was just her luck, she supposed, to fall for a man still haunted by the ghost of his first love, not to mention guilt over her death. A man who was still very afraid to open his heart to anyone, for fear of the pain it would bring. She shrugged. If being Andros' friend was all he would allow, she'd be content with that. In the meantime, she'd be there for him, whatever it took.
"Greetings, Starfighter," the machine intoned. Chris Sterling, sitting in the simulator's seat, nodded, echoing the game's introduction under his breath.
"Yeah, yeah, defend the galaxy, I know the drill," he muttered. "Let's hit it!" Chris had decided to spend his money on the Starfighter game, a machine he knew by heart, because he had a lot of things to sort out. Starfighter combat, which took only a minimal portion of his brain, was the best way to concentrate that he knew of.
As Chris' reflexes sent him spinning and dodging through the host of enemy ships, the majority of his thoughts were focused on the past two weeks, and the changes those had wrought. He was a Power Ranger now, him, of all people. The secrecy thing wasn't going to be a problem- there was no one in Dry Creek he liked enough to tell anyway. Not since Ashley had left.
Now that had been a kick in the pants. Ashley Thompson, the woman he'd had a mammoth crush on for years, was a Power Ranger, and had recruited him for the team. He still wasn't quite sure what her rationale had been. Sure, he could fly anything with wings (although he couldn't land it in one piece, but that was another story.) But he wasn't a martial artist, or a great fighter, or a hero like the rest of the team.
Still, they'd been pretty good to him. Even Carlos, who he'd been prepared to thoroughly dislike. But Ashley seemed happy with the Black Astro Ranger, and he certainly treated her well. Carlos had even been nice to Chris, although there hadn't been any real love between them. And he'd seriously hit it off with TJ. Somehow, he had a feeling that the Blue Astro Ranger understood him better than he was willing to admit.
Thinking of colors, Chris grinned slightly. His one concession to the admittedly weak and shaky power coursing through him had been to wear a gray Robotech shirt to the arcade, rather than a white one. Most of the other Rangers felt uncomfortable unless wearing a solid article of their color somewhere on their body. Chris didn't have that problem, and he could only conclude that it was due to his powers not REALLY being the original Silver powers, but a siphoned off set.
He shivered, automatically dodging Kodan fire as he did so. That had been a scary image. His powers were really only what could be spared from the life support systems keeping Andros' friend alive. Most of the Rangers didn't know about Zhane, and Chris could understand the Kerovan Ranger's reluctance to enlighten them. That had to be a sore spot- a friend not quite alive, not quite dead. He only knew about it because Andros had needed to explain everything about the powers to him.
Chris sighed. He had sort of expected that once everyone returned to Earth, the other Rangers would drift off on their own again, but it didn't look as if that was going to happen. TJ and Ashley had informed him that he WOULD be hanging out with them, if they had to teleport up to Dry Creek and hogtie him themselves. The last thing he needed was to be hogtied in front of his mother. She'd never let him live it down.
The arrival of the Kodan flagship startled Chris out of his reflections. This was still something that he needed to concentrate on if he was going to get past it. Guns blazing, Chris dove to the attack, his thoughts forgotten for the time being.
"'Bye Mom!" Ashley Thompson called, dashing out the door. Carlos Vargas grinned at her as she raced down the sidewalk and hopped into his black convertible, not bothering to open the door. Carlos and TJ had fixed the car up from junkyard condition, and he was a little overprotective. Ashley was probably the only one who could get away with bouncing on his upholstery like this.
"You got everything?" he asked, pulling out of the driveway smoothly. She nodded.
"Bathing suit, suntan lotion, towel, brush- yeah, I got everything. TJ's bringing to food, right?"
Carlos laughed. "Of course. Do you think he'd trust anyone else to pack enough for him?"
She giggled. "Probably not. God, it seems so strange to be having a pool party at Cassie's, after the past two weeks, doesn't it?"
"Tell me about it," he nodded. "We've been to outer space, to a galactic trial, gained a power that hasn't been wielded in millennia- and now we're just hanging out, like normal teenagers."
"Can you believe it? We're Ninjetti." Ashley sighed. Even Zordon had been slightly in awe of the six of them, when they had demonstrated their new powers to the Council. And she'd been more than a little surprised to find her new color was blue. Sure, she was smart and good with machines, but she hadn't ever thought of herself in the same category as Billy. And her outfit- "I can't believe I look like a Sailor Senshi."
Carlos grinned at her. "I like the outfit," he chuckled, ducking as she swatted him playfully. Then he sobered. "Yeah, it is sort of weird, isn't it? For the first time, I really feel a lot closer to Billy and the rest."
Ashley nodded. She knew what he meant. The Ninjetti powers made them just a little different than the rest of the Astro Ranger team. It affected their senses and physical processes, and although it wasn't enough to drive a wedge between them and their teammates, it did make things very strange.
"Ash?" Carlos spoke up suddenly, breaking into her thoughts. "I just wanted to tell you- you really mean a lot to me. There were times over the last two weeks that I was sure we were gonna buy it, and I wanted to tell you, just in case."
Ashley smiled. She knew how hard it was for Carlos to admit to caring for someone, after the loss of his father and all. The words he had just spoken were the closest he ever got to "I love you," but she knew what he meant. Reaching out, she took his free hand.
"I love you too, Carlos."
"Chris Sterling, don't you dare!" Cassie Chan backed carefully around the edge of the pool, hands extended before her. Meanwhile, the Silver Astro Ranger was advancing on her, a devious gleam in his eyes.
"Come on, Cassie, lighten up," he grinned. "You need to cool off anyway." So saying, he seized his pink-clad teammate around the waist and threw her into the deep end, watching with an amused smile as she surfaced, spluttering.
Suddenly Cassie stopped glaring daggers at Chris and began to smirk. That was all the warning he received before TJ and Carlos picked him up and unceremoniously tossed him into the water. Then, perhaps to stave off further retaliation, they jumped in themselves.
Andros, watching from a safe distance, shook his head. He'd goofed around plenty of times with the other Astro Guardians, but he couldn't understand why water always seemed to trigger this particular behavior in Earth people. From water balloons to swimming pools, humans seemed to regress ten years when confronted with the substance.
Suddenly he smiled. For the first time, he'd been able to think of his lost teammates with no guilt and only a fraction of the pain the memory usually brought. Looking up, he saw five pairs of eyes watching him expectantly, seeming to know his thoughts. Still, he felt compelled to say something.
"I'm- really glad you're all my friends," he managed, and TJ flashed him a grin.
"We know," the Blue Astro Ranger replied, his words covering more than just Andros's statement. Then he chuckled evilly. "But don't think that gets you off the hook."
Andros' eyes widened as he saw TJ and Carlos haul themselves out of the pool and advance towards him. Leaping off his deck chair, the Kerovan Ranger backed away slowly. "You wouldn't," he protested. The grins on his friends' faces were answer enough. "I outrank you," he offered, knowing it would do little good. "Help!"
Andros surfaced, glaring at his grinning teammates. He couldn't hold the expression for long, however, and began laughing along with them. Then he caught sight of Ashley, standing beside the pool, and the only one still dry. An evil smile crept across his face as he pointed to her and concentrated.
"Oh NOOOO!" Ashley cried, as she was levitated into the pool.
The sounds of a full-fledged water war proceeded long into the