A young man entered the building dubbed the Surf Spot. He had been there a handful of times, so he was familiar enough with the design of the building, as well as the customs observed in this "restaurant" to behave like a typical customer. However, although he looked typical-- with the exception of stripes of blonde hair on his crown and a stoic expression-- he was far from it. He was indeed human, but under no circumstances could he be considered an Earthling. He was from the distant planet KL 35, and he felt as alien on Earth as someone from Aquitar or Triforia would.
After surveying the restaurant, which was more out of habit than actual precaution of a threat, Andros Wiengart took a seat at a round table, in the corner near the counter. From his position, he could easily see the entrance to the establishment, meaning he would see his fellow Power Rangers enter.
Final exams, he pondered, tapping his fingers impatiently on the table, I simply can't understand the logic in them. Forcing students to memorize a year's worth of facts-- most of which are useless in the grand scheme of things-- and having them prove they've "learned" by regurgitating them to the instructor. As soon as the exam is over, more than likely the students forget what they've learned, to make room for new material in their short-term memory. What a waste of effort. And until these final exams are completed, we are stuck on Earth. We are getting no closer to finding Zordon... or my sister...
Andros absently pulled the chain peeking out from under his red t-shirt, and fingered the pendant hanging from it. It was a half of a golden medallion about the size of a silver dollar. The medallion was blank on one side, but on the other side was half of an inscription. For all his worth, Andros tried to recall what the full inscription said. But it was of no use, for he hadn't seen the other half in over ten years. That, and the only people who could have known the full inscription were gone.
Although the young man tried, he couldn't force himself to block out the memories of happier times. It didn't seem all that long ago when he, his sister Kerone, and his parents Arethusa and Ninevah lived happily on the bright, blooming planet of KL 35, in the system they call Kerola, but on Earth is known as Alpha Centauri. That planet housed a colony of human beings, who were brought there centuries ago by an alien race, who feared mankind's extinction due to the Black Death, which spread across Europe like wildfire, and killed over a quarter of the population. The travelling aliens hypothesized that Earth could become a dead wasteland, so they selected five-hundred healthy human beings of a variety of races, and brought them to the closest planet that resembled Earth in terms of size, atmosphere, weather, and mineral content. That planet, called KL 35, was a land of prosperity since its establishment in the forteenth century. However, peace is often followed by war.
A few years after Kerone's mysterious abduction, Andros' entire world fell apart. Alien forces, desiring the natural resources of the planet, laid waste to it. The Prime Minister, the leader of the colony, managed to contact the benevolent aliens who saved them from extinction six hundred years ago, to do the same again. They did indeed help, and they sent a representative, a master in the fighting and strategic arts, to assemble a team of Power Rangers. There were five, called the Astro Rangers, and the accomplished warrior Andros was selected as the Red Ranger, the leader of the Astro Rangers.
Unfortunately for KL 35, the rangers were banded too late to save the planet. The rangers were defeated, due to Andros' faulty appraisal of just how powerful the enemy forces were. At his command, the rangers fought the invasion, lead by Dark Specter himself, just outside the capital city. One at a time, the brave rangers fell, including the leader. However, as luck would have it, Andros survived the massacre. Perhaps Dark Specter knew how to truly torture the Red Ranger, without allowing him the release of death. Andros was forced to witness the brutal execution of his family and friends. Only those who escaped KL 35 managed to survive. Dark Specter stripped the beautiful world of the material he desired, and left the cities standing, as a cold grave to forever remind others of the truly advanced, peaceful society he had lain to waste.
Andros' suffering was, and still is, a bottomless well. The only way he could function was to live for revenge, but he learned quickly how empty that was. So he coupled his thirst for revenge with hope, small at it was, that perhaps he could someday find his missing sister, as well as the handful of survivers of KL 35. Perhaps the Kerolian race wasn't forever destroyed. Perhaps it could be reborn. It is the dream that had kept the young man alive these past two agonizingly lonely years.
"Hey Andros," said a familiar female voice. The startled Red Ranger looked up in surprise, and saw Ashley Hammond, the Yellow Ranger, standing behind him. She smiled at him, and took a seat beside him.
"Hello, Ashley," he greeted, releasing the medallion, "How did your exams go?"
Ashley's smile creased into an annoyed frown. "I knew I should've studied more," she sighed, "Trigonometry was murder, and I don't want to even think about Biology! But the others were okay."
"So are you finally finished?"
"Yes," she answered, stretching her arms, "after three agonizing days, final exams are done!!"
Ashley leaned closer to Andros, and looked around to make sure no one was within earshot. "Now that we're done with school, we can comb the universe for Zordon. Dark Specter can't stay one step ahead of us any longer!"
Andros smiled at Ashley's enthusiasm. His smile fell when he noticed she was looking at his chest curiously.
"I don't think I've ever seen this," Ashley said, reaching across the table and lifting Andros' medallion. Andros had to supress his instinct to knock her hand away. "Its really pretty. Is it a friendship charm?"
"A what?" asked Andros, gently pushing Ashley's hand away.
"You know, a friendship charm. You have one half, and someone really special to you, usually a best friend, has the other half."
"Oh. Well, that's not far from the truth. Its more of a family heirlomb, though."
"Wow. Is it worth something?"
Andros frowned. "It contains a secret, but only with both halves can the secret be unlocked."
"So where's the other half?"
Although he tried to hide it, Ashley saw the emotional reaction the question created. It didn't take long to realize Ashley had broached a delicate subject, but that just made her curiosity increase.
He's always so distant with us, she thought, If only he'd open up a little. We all would like to be his friends, but its like he's trying so hard to keep us at a distance!
"I... I'd rather not discuss it," Andros said, turning away from Ashley to the entrance. Ashley nodded, and leaned back in her chair. There was an awkward silence between the pair that lasted a full five minutes, until Carlos, Cassie, and TJ, the three remaining Astro Rangers, entered the Surf Spot, and joined their friends.
"Wow, Andros," commented TJ, turning his chair around and sitting on it backwards, "I didn't think you'd meet us here."
"Yeah," said Carlos, "you never leave the Megaship."
Andros' eyebrow arched. "Well, I thought the best way to understand you Earthbound humans is to observe. Besides, DECA is running an infestation sweep of the lower decks of the ship, and the gases are rather poisonous in their concentrated form."
"What do you mean infestation sweep?" Cassie inquired, "You mean from germs."
Andros nodded. "Each planet has its own germs, and the inhabitants in that planet are typically immune to many of the germs they are exposed to. However, other beings, who have never been exposed to those germs, could find them deadly. Therefore, since we visit so many planets, we do a full infestation sweep, to kill any germs that have been brought to the ship, so we don't in turn infect another planet in our search for Zordon. DECA tries to keep the Megaship completely sterile."
"But when we come back aboard, we're going to just infect the ship over again," Carlos commented.
"Not if you go through some simple sanitation procedures when you come aboard. Don't worry, its a painless white mist, somewhat similar in appearance to the chemical found in your fire extinguishers. But it evaporates in seconds."
"So when are we leaving the planet?" Ashley asked.
"As soon as possible," said Andros, "We have to catch up with Dark Spectre, and find some clue as to where he's hiding Zordon. If we don't hurry, we'll never be able to rescue him."
"Well," said Cassie, "Could we maybe leave late tonight, instead of immediately?"
Andros looked up at the Pink Ranger. "Why?"
"There's a party for the entire school," said TJ, "We'd like to say goodbye to all our friends and stuff. After all, we probably won't see them until September."
Andros sighed. "We can't waste any time."
"Its only a couple of hours," Ashley protested, "You can come with us!"
Andros frowned. "That's alright. I'll wait for you in the Megaship. I'll take inventory, to make sure we have everything we need from Earth before our departure. So, can we return to the Megaship now?"
"After we have a snack," said Carlos, picking up the menu, "That food replicator just can't do a chili-dog justice."
Meanwhile, in the mobile Dark Fortress that has become a home to her, the young, ambitious villainess Astronema sat on her throne, fingering a lock of bright purple hair. Her other hand firmly grasped her sceptor, and she tapped her foot impatiently. To her right stood Ecliptor, the menacing warrior who had served Astronema faithfully for years. Finally, the chamber door opened, and two Quantrons entered. They stepped to either side of the door, and bowed to their leader. Then, a tall, red creature with an evil glare and a cold grin confidently strode into the chamber. He walked towards the throne, but Ecliptor stepped in front of his mistress, and brandished his sharp double-edged sword. The visitor's grin broadened.
"That is as far as you come, Vermin," Ecliptor spat, "You can make your case to the Queen of Evil at a distance."
"A little jumpy there, aren't you, Captain?" the visitor smirked, "And aren't you being a little presumptuous with the title 'Queen of Evil'? After all, rumor has it Astronema must prove herself to be the most vile villainess in the cosmos to earn that title, and the great Dark Spectre assigned her the mission no one else can fulfill-- the destruction of the Power Rangers."
"Indeed," Astronema said, waving Ecliptor out of the way, "and according to the message you sent me, you have a way for me to do just so. Tell me your plan, Darkonda, and make it quick."
"As you wish," Darkonda said, opening his closed fist. Inside his hand was a thin gold chain, with a half of a medallion as a pendant. He tossed it to Astronema, who caught it with her quick reflexes. She glanced at the necklace curiously, and then looked up at Darkonda.
"What is this?" she demanded.
"It is your key to the destruction of the Astro Rangers. You see, about ten years ago, I was offered a great amount of money to kidnap one of the two children of Arethusa Wiengart, the Prime Minister of KL 35, a human colony in the Kerola system. Apparently, my employer had a score to settle with the gentleman. So, after being paid in advance, I went to the planet, and grabbed the child Kerone Wiengart, the youngest of the two children. She wore this necklace.
"Once I was safely inside my ship, I gave the girl tranquilizers, to keep her out of my hair during the journey. I also took the necklace, planning on sending it to Arethusa, informing him of his daughter's abduction. But I made the mistake of flying along the trade route of Triforia. I'm notorious on that planet, so the officers escorting a convoy demanded my surrender, and opened fire. I did as was ordered, because they would surely have destroyed my ship. I managed to escape, of course, but not with the girl. So I left, with the necklace."
"What does all this have to do with the Power Rangers?" Ecliptor asked.
"Well, Arethusa had two children. One was Kerone, and the other was her older brother Andros."
"The Red Astro Ranger?!" Astronema exclaimed, a dark grin crossing her face.
"The very same. No one knows what has become of Kerone Wiengart, but I know for a fact the Red Ranger has never discontinued his search for his sister. Of course, after over ten years, there is no way he would recognize her. Except for the medallion that she wore upon her neck."
Astronema nodded, glancing down at the medallion in her hand. She rose to her feet, and walked along the marble floor, her blue eyes never leaving the smooth golden surface of the medallion half.
"Do you recall what Kerone Wiengart of KL 35 looked like?" she asked.
"I remember well," Darkonda responded, "She had light brown hair, and grayish-brown eyes. Rather pale complexion."
"You mean like this?" Astronema asked, closing her eyes. When she opened them, her bright blue eyes were suddenly a shade of grayish brown. She then ran her gloved fingers through her lavender locks, and each strand she touched became brown. Once her appearance was adequately altered, she flashed a smile at Darkonda, and tossed her dark curls over her shoulder.
"Perfect," he said, nodding.
"Wait a minute," Ecliptor said, stepping forward, "You don't actually think you can impersonate this 'Kerone' girl, do you?"
"Why not?" Darkonda asked, "Lady Astronema, how good are you at deception."
Astronema grinned evilly. "Only Satan himself is better."
"Then it shall be easy!" Darkonda said, "Andros will recognize the medallion easily! We can stage the entire thing. Astronema can lead some Quantrons to attack Earth, and the Astro Rangers will interfere. She can allow herself to be captured, and the rangers will surely find the medallion. You can feign amnesia, claiming that you have no memories before ten years ago, but you were raised according to evil. The medallion will speak for you."
"But what if the rangers do not believe it?" Ecliptor pressed, "What will happen to her?"
"I'll be fine," Astronema said, "All I have to do is get a few minutes of free reign in the ship. I'll sabotage the controls, maybe throwing off the Megazord sequence or the deflector shields. Then, the ship will be an easy target. An excellent plan, Darkonda! Very soon, I will be crowned Queen of Evil!"
Ecliptor frowned, and discretely left the throne room, gripping his sword tightly.
In the quiet bridge of the Megaship, Andros continued skimming computer readouts of inventory. After making sure the ship had everything necessary for a voyage of a few months, he turned away from the computer, and sat down at the large viewscreen. From his pocket, he pulled a small box, and took the tiny CD from it. He placed the disc into the computer, and sat back, his lips tight and his green eyes glassy.
The static of the screen took shape. In a lush park, two children, one seven and the other ten, were playing a game similar to catch. However, both children were telekinetics, and therefore their hands never touched the ball. The children continued their innocent play, until the ball was accidentally thrown out of their reach. The boy got up, and chased the ball into the bushes. The camera focused on the girl, who waited patiently for her playmate to return. Suddenly, her head snapped up when she heard a branch breaking behind her. Something moved from the shadows, too quickly to be seen, and whisked the child away. All that was left of her was her terrified scream, that echoed through the emptiness of the glade, and the emptiness in Andros' heart.
^Andros!! Andros, help me!! AAAHH!!^
Andros lowered his head, his eyes closed tightly as the image faded. He took a deep breath, and clasped his hands together to release the tension.
"Oh my God..." came a soft whisper from behind.
The second time that day, Andros was startled by the unexpected presence of the Yellow Ranger. She stood at the entrance to the bridge, still wearing her lemon yellow party dress.
"What are you doing here?!" he demanded. Ashley was disturbed by the harshness in his voice.
"I... I wanted to see how you were doing," she said, keeping her distance, "The party was a little dull. The others are still there, though."
Andros nodded, and sat back down. Quickly, he removed the small CD from the computer, and placed it back into its case, and in his pocket. "How much did you see?" he inquired, his back to her.
"Enough," Ashley said gently. She approached the Red Ranger cautiously, as if afraid he would lash out his anger. Of course, Ashley knew he wasn't angry with her perse'. Rather, he was angry at the breach of his privacy. And if there was one word to describe Andros Wiengart, its private.
"She was my sister," Andros said quietly, feeling compelled to answer Ashley's unspoken question, "She was kidnapped over ten years ago, right from our backyard. This recording is from the security cameras. Even the best computer technicians on KL 35 could not clear up the image of the kidnapper. And strangely enough, there was never any ransom asked, or anything. It was as if Kerone vanished from the universe."
"And you've been looking for her ever since," Ashley said, nodding slightly, "Have you... found anything?"
Andros shook his head. For some reason, he felt the need to be completely open with Ashley. After all, he sensed her genuine concern. It was something he hadn't experienced for years.
"I've searched for human life in every sector we have ever been in," Andros said, "and each time, I find nothing. Humans are not space-travellers. There is only one concentration of humans, and that's on Earth. My homeworld used to be populated, but now it is abandoned. I haven't found Kerone, nor the remnant of Kerolians that escaped the massacre. I am alone."
Ashley lay a hand on Andros' shoulder, and smiled warmly at him. "You're not alone. You have the four of us, and your sister is out there somewhere. And so are other Kerolians. You just haven't found them yet. But you will!"
That said, Ashley took a seat beside Andros, and turned to face him, her arms crossed. "So, how do you plan on figuring out who she is? I mean, you're looking for humans at this point, but billions of individuals fit that bill."
Andros nodded, and pulled the pendant from beneath his red turtleneck sweater. "Kerone has the other half of this medallion. That will be the identifying mark. That is what I'm searching for."
"Have you ever thought of searching Earth?" Ashley asked, "I mean, what better place to hide a human than amongst other humans?"
Andros shook his head. "It makes no sense. Why would someone kidnap Kerone, and drop her off on Earth? Besides, there are six billion humans. That number is quite difficult to narrow down."
"Well, maybe you can scan for telekinetic brain patterns or something," Ashley suggested, tapping her chin, "After all, in that recording, you and Kerone were both using TK. Doesn't TK take a special skill, that therefore creates a readable difference in brain patterns?"
A small smile crept onto Andros' face. Ashley was surprised to see such a hopeful expression on the morbid leader. On occasion he smiled, most often in amusement. But this was a smile of hope, by far a brighter smile in comparison. Ashley noted how good that smile looked on the dashing young hero.
"Perhaps," Andros said, rising to his feet, "DECA, could you start readjusting the scan, to brain patterns? Specifically, activity in the occipital lobe?"
^Affirmative,^ the computer relayed, ^Adjustment will be complete in twenty-four hours.^
"Not too long to wait, if it'll find your sister," Ashley said, a satisfied grin on her face. Andros beamed at the Yellow Ranger.
"You're absolutely brilliant, Ashley!" Andros exclaimed, hurrying to the computer keyboard to study an image of what appeared to be a PET scan of a human brain. "You see, the bright color shows a great amount of activity in that portion of the brain. Telekinetics show increased activity in the occipital lobe. Its probably not enough for Earth technology to register, but DECA will be able to tell the difference."
Suddenly, alarms sounded throughout the bridge, nearly causing Ashley to fall out of her seat. She stood up quickly, and turned full circle. "One of these days, I'll get used to that," she muttered.
"Aye yi yi!" shrieked Alpha Five, hurrying onto the bridge, "We've got trouble! Astronema and a group of Quantrons are raiding the old Power Chamber site!"
"What?" said Ashley in surprise, "Astronema's here, in person?"
"What could they gain from the Power Chamber?" Andros asked the small robot, "Everything of value was destroyed when Divatox razed it weeks ago!"
"Knowing Astronema, she'll find some way to cause trouble," Ashley said, hurrying towards the chutes, "Let's Rocket!"
At first, Andros was surprised to hear his teammate call the battle cry, but he pushed it aside to deal with other matters. He hurried to his own chute, and turned to Alpha.
"Contact TJ, Cassie, and Carlos, and inform them of our trip to the Power Chamber," he said, "Tell them to back us up as soon as they can."
"You got it, Andros!" said Alpha, saluting. Andros and Ashley slid through the tubes, and were instantly morphed into the Yellow and Red Astro Rangers, atop their Galaxy Gliders. Together, they streaked towards Earth.
Astronema stood atop the cliff, the strong winds of the mountains weaving through her golden brown hair. Her brown eyes kept watch as her Quantrons searched through the rubble of the Power Chamber. She tried hard to supress a maniacal laugh as her fingers wandered to the gold pendant around her neck.
This is too easy, she reflected, The rangers will certainly feel violated, with us digging through their private property. And so, they'll show up. And the necklace will do all the talking. Of course, I'm not human, so any scans wouldn't give evidence. However, my body is so full of magical energy, any scan would be inconclusive. I can attribute this to my "abduction". And now that Darkonda has filled me in on exactly what happened that fateful day, only two other people know what really happened-- Andros, and the real Kerone. If she's even alive.
Astronema snapped out of her reverie when she saw two streaks of light from over the horizon. Her excited grin quickly fell into a disappointed frown.
"Well, they don't think I'm enough of a threat to warrant a full-on attack?!" she shouted, her pride injured, "Well fine then!"
Astronema slipped the medallion beneath the collar of her black leather catsuit, and held her sceptor with both hands. A stream of lavender energy shot from the tip, slicing through the warm summer breeze, directly towards the rangers. Both rangers veered to opposite sides, allowing the blast to fly harmlessly past them. Then, the Yellow and Red Rangers leapt to the ground, and stood before the crowd of Quantrons.
"Doing your own dirty work, Astronema?" Andros asked, "Did Dark Spectre demote you?"
Astronema's frown deepened. "Witty reparte' doesn't suit you, Red Ranger," she spat, "You should leave that up to your overactive Earthling friends!"
With that, Astronema leapt to the ground, balancing her scepter with both hands. "Shall we dance?"
"Always a pleasure," Andros retorted, his Spiral Sabre appearing in his hand. The two seasoned warriors battled, as they had done dozens of times before. But this time, Andros noted a distinct difference between this battle and the previous ones. For one thing, Astronema seemed to be slightly off balance, as if she weren't fighting at her best. Also, her taste in hair and eye color disturbed him. Andros was accustomed to Astronema sporting a variety of colorful wigs, from electric blue to canary yellow. However, he was always convinced her natural color was purple. But now, her hair was such a natural shade of brown, with streaks of reddish gold, that it couldn't merely be a wig. Also, her eyes, which usually were bright fiery blue, were a soft brown, with traces of gray. It chilled Andros to the bone when he realized how similar those eyes were to those of his father. Or at least, what he remembered his father's eyes to be like.
"I see you've changed your hair again, Astronema," Andros commented, bending backwards to avoid a swing from her sceptor.
"I decided to go au natural," she responded, blocking Andros' retaliatory swing with her sceptor, "Its not as fun as lavender, but it'll have to do."
Meanwhile, as Ashley fought the dozen or so Quantrons that accompanied Astronema to Earth, she couldn't keep her eyes off the fight that took place only yards away. Although Ashley had never seen Astronema in person, she had seen images of her on the computer. Astronema was certainly humanoid, but her wild taste in bright wigs, glittery makeup, and her fiery blue eyes kept the beautiful villainess alien. However, this time Astronema looked too human for comfort. Her hair was normal, and it wasn't even adorned in some peculiar fashion. The glittery makeup was gone, leaving a pale complexion to shine. And her eyes looked soulful, as opposed to demonic or possessed. Ashley couldn't figure out what this sudden change in appearence meant, but she didn't have time to ponder it, as she discovered the Quantrons were fighting for keeps.
"Okay," she said, focusing on her own predicament, "the kid gloves are off! Star Slinger!!"
The yellow slingshot appeared at the Yellow Ranger's command, and she fired out bolts of bright energy at the Quantrons, showering the creatures with powerful radiation. She managed to keep them at bay, but she had difficulty destroying them. She felt a wave of relief as three bright streaks of light landed nearby, and took the shape of the Blue, Black, and Pink Rangers. The late-arriving rangers quickly came to the aid of the Yellow Ranger, and began cutting down the number of Quantrons.
"What took you guys so long?" Ashley inquired.
"We were in the middle of a conga line," Cassie answered.
Ashley giggled. "Man, am I glad I left early!"
It didn't take long before the Quantrons were all dust. The four rangers brushed the desert dust from their uniforms, and all glanced up at their leader, who was still involved in a heated duel with Astronema.
"Is that Astronema?" Carlos asked, "She doesn't look like the photo in her date file."
"That purple hairdo was a fashion no-no," Cassie commented.
"We should help Andros out," TJ said, stepping closer to the fight. But Ashley quickly grabbed the Blue Ranger's arm.
"You know how Andros is about receiving help," Ashley pointed out, "He'll think we thought he couldn't handle it himself."
TJ nodded grudgingly, and continued to act as a spectator. Up higher on the cliff, Astronema and Andros continued to clash weapons, slowly nearing the edge. Andros was quite surprised by the fact that the fight had dragged out for so long. Usually, after about five minutes of neither gaining the upper hand, Astronema would teleport away. Now that the Quantrons have all been destroyed, Andros was even more surprised that Astronema didn't make a tactical retreat. Still, he continued to fight his opponent, letting his warrior instinct lead his sword. He didn't want to think too hard at this moment.
Suddenly, a startled shriek passed through Astronema's lips, as she lost her footing and dropped her sceptor. She had slipped off the cliff, and had just barely managed to grab onto the edge, before plummeting to the rocky terrain below. She stared up at the Red Ranger, panic widening her brown eyes to the proportion of a scared child's.
"Andros!" she cried, her grip slipping, "Andros help me!! AAHHH!!"
Andros froze, dropping his Spiral Sabre in mute shock. He had never heard Astronema refer to him by his name, although he knew she was familiar with it. And her choice of words, along with her terrified, childlike expression, shook the Red Ranger to the core. In her moment of vulnerability and weakness, Astronema looked like a lost child. She couldn't have been more than eighteen years old. Why hadn't he seen that before?
"Hang on!" Andros shouted, as soon as he found his voice again. He tossed himself to the ground, and grabbed Astronema's arms with both his hands. His enhanced Power Ranger strength allowed him to pull her over the cliff safely. Astronema sprawled out on the sand, panting heavily. Andros himself remained at his knees, shaking his head in disbelief. The four other Astro Rangers hurried to the cliff, and surrounded their leader.
"Andros!" Ashley cried, helping the Red Ranger to his feet, "Are you okay?"
Andros remained silent, still shaking his head. Ashley gazed at Astronema worriedly. She had heard the villainess' panicked exclaimation, and she knew where she had heard it before. A wave of mistrust struck the Yellow Ranger, as she watched Astronema rise to her feet shakily.
"Very well, Red Ranger," Astronema said, brushing the dust from her black leather uniform, "this round goes to you. As they say on Earth, 'he that fights and runs away,' yadda yadda."
With that, Astronema raised her hand, as she always did when teleporting. But to her surprise, she didn't vanish in her signature display of bright lavender energy. She remained at her position, and then looked towards the cliff, where she had almost fallen.
"My sceptor..." she whispered, touching her forehead, "Well, this is certainly a great way to end a day!"
Astronema then turned to the five Astro Rangers, who were standing in a line. "So, now what are you going to do with me? Chances are, you won't escort me back to my Dark Fortress."
TJ turned to Andros. "What are we gonna do with her?"
Andros remained silent for a moment, apparently staring at Astronema through his visor. Finally, he rose his communicator to his mouth. "Alpha, teleport me a pair of energy-siphoning manacles, on the double. We have a hostage."
Meanwhile, in the cloaked Dark Fortress that hung in outer space, the wicked Darkonda laughed hysterically, gripping a steaming cup of some alien beverage.
"I'll tell you, Ecliptor," he said, sipping from his glass, "Lady Astronema is one talented actress. I especially loved that whole 'Andros, help me!' bit. It was so perfect! That Red Ranger's probably so shaken, he won't know up from down!"
Ecliptor merely scoffed. "Astronema had to abandon her sceptor, which is the main focus of her magical power. If she is forced to fight the rangers again, she will be at a severe disadvantage."
"So? She's still a powerful sorceress, even without the sceptor. However, the rangers don't know that. So just sit down, and enjoy the show. We'll be able to see everything through Astronema's mind-link with the viewscreen. She's also a talented telepath, and telekinetic-- abilities she may need, if Andros requires further proof of her identity."
"Tell me Darkonda, why are you doing this?"
"Helping Astronema defeat the Astro Rangers. Why? You haven't asked for money. What have you to gain from all this? Or are you merely trying to get rid of Astronema, just like you were hired to get rid of Kerone all those years ago?"
Darkonda feigned hurt. "Moi? Trust me, Ecliptor, once Astronema becomes Queen of Evil, I do indeed plan to be paid handsomely. If not in money, then at least in connections, or a reliable starship to roam the galaxy in. And even if I don't get paid directly, just having those do-good Power Rangers gone will certainly make the life of a mercenary much easier. After all, it was a Power Ranger that ruined the biggest deal I ever made!"
"Are you referring to the Kerone abduction?" Ecliptor asked.
"You know it. My employer was willing to pay me cash up front, but upon delivery, I'd get a galaxy class starship! That would be the biggest payoff imaginable, especially for grabbing a little girl. But the Gold Ranger had to get in my way, and force me to surrender. If it were only a couple of Triforian soldiers, I would've tried to get away. But I knew my ship didn't have the capability to out-maneuvre or out-gun Pyramidas."
"So Prince Trey of Triforia is the one who rescued Kerone."
"Yeah. But he obviously didn't return her to KL 35, or Andros wouldn't be searching for her now. I almost wonder what became of that little brat. Her head's still worth a fortune."
"You'd best keep your mind on what will become of Astronema," Ecliptor snapped, "and if anything happens to her, I'll hold you personally responsible."
"Was that intended to be a threat?" Darkonda asked darkly.
"You be the judge," Ecliptor responded, gripping the hilt of his sword.
Inside the brig, which was the collection of jail cells in the bottom level of the Megaship, Astronema sat on a bench, her arms still tied by energy manacles, and bars of green energy separating her from freedom. Just outside the cell, the five Astro Rangers stood, wearing their gray suits instead of their uniforms. Andros stepped forward, his arms clasped behind his back, and a calm expression on his face.
"What were you hoping to gain from the remains of the Power Chamber?" he asked. Astronema shrugged.
"I was hoping to find some memento, that I could get Zordon to sign for me, now that he's Dark Spectre's prisoner. Zordon of Eltar is quite famous, you know."
TJ frowned, his arms crossed. "Don't play games with us, Astronema. Don't make us regret saving you life."
"What are you going to do? You're Power Rangers! You wouldn't kill a helpless villainess, who can't even fight back! Its against that bothersome code of ethics you follow so religiously. And if you're thinking of trading me for Zordon, it won't work. Dark Spectre knows you won't do anything to me."
Ashley sighed, and turned to Andros. "Let's call it a day. Maybe a couple of nights in the brig will make her more reasonable."
Andros nodded. "Alpha, do a quick metal detection. I want to make sure she doesn't have any concealed weapons on her."
Alpha nodded, and pressed a few buttons on a panel against the wall just outside the cell. A soft red light brightened the cell, and a light on the panel began to flash. "Its picking up two pieces of metal. One is her body armor, and the other is concealed, around her neck."
"Rather be safe than sorry," said Carlos, "Lower the shield. I'll get it."
Alpha nodded, and the green bars of light vanished. The Black Ranger stepped into the cell, and noticed the gold chain peeking out from Astronema's collar. She glared at the Black Ranger menacingly.
"No one ever touches my necklace," she warned, "That includes you Power Pests."
Carlos ignored her warning, and unclasped the golden chain. He pulled it off of Astronema's neck, despite her wild wiggling to prevent it. Once he had the necklace, he left the cell, and Alpha reconstructed the bars.
"Give it back!!" Astronema screamed, "You'll regret this, you hear me?!?!"
"Maybe we have something to bargain with," Carlos said, holding up the necklace, "It looks like Astronema values this pendant. What do you think Andros?"
But Andros didn't reply. His green eyes were wide, fixed completely on the pendant. Instantly, he grabbed the necklace from his friend's grasp, and turned to Astronema. "Where did you get this?" he demanded.
"Its mine," she responded, "Its always been mine. Now, give it back!!"
"It... can't be," Andros whispered, closing his eyes, "Its impossible!!"
Suddenly, Andros stormed out of the brig, leaving four stunned Power Rangers, a dumfounded robot, and a furious villainess.
"What was that all about?" Cassie asked no one in particular.
Ashley continued to watch the door, which Andros had just left through. She shook her head in disbelief, and turned to her friends. "I'm going to follow him."