It was her only link to her past... and to her humanity.
But suddenly, something new came into her life, that was awakening emotions the young sorceress didn't know she was capable of.
Her thoughts drifted to what happened this very day. She had sent a monster to Earth, as usual, to destroy the Power Rangers. This time, however, she elected to watch the battle from close up. This brought her face to face with the Silver Ranger, whose inflated ego brought him to challenge Astronema as well as all her Quantrons. Surprisingly, he managed to defend himself expertly against such overwhelming odds, and even tricked Astronema into firing a stray laser beam, which impacted with her monster. To Astronema's infinite horror, the monster turned on her, and would have finished her off... had the Silver Ranger not intervened.
Astronema had fallen into unconsciousness, but when she awoke, she found herself in a beautiful park, with birds singing and fresh green flora. It wasn't like the environments she was used to, of darkness and death. It was full of life, energy, and peace. And standing in the middle of it was the Silver Ranger.
Astronema realized her opportunity in an instant. Here she was, lying behind the mightiest Power Ranger in the galaxy, who was totally ignorant of her current state of lucidity. Her scepter wasn't far away, either. And the Silver Ranger was sans helmet... the only thing protecting the most precious and fragile part of his body.
She quickly lay her head down when he approached her. She didn't want to lose her advantage. Soon, he was looming above her, and lowered himself to his knees. She felt his proximity, and a surge of panic struck. What was he doing?
She jolted when she felt his gentle touch on her forehead. He moved back slightly when he noticed she was awake, worry painted on his face. It was in fact the first time Astronema really paid attention to his face. Handsome, playful... yet somehow innocent, as if unscarred by the trauma he no doubt suffered from the loss of his planet. He wasn't at all like Andros, the only other Kerolian she was acquainted with. Andros always seemed... dead inside. Zhane was very much the opposite.
"What do you think you're doing?" she asked, peering into his blue eyes threateningly.
He was silent for a moment, as if he was asking himself that same question.
"Here," he said finally, holding out a steaming cup, "try this. Its good for you."
Astronema was startled by his last sentence. Why would he care what was good for her? He was a Power Ranger! Ecliptor always told her that the Power Rangers destroyed her family. They pretend to fight for justice, just so they could establish themselves as the resident power in a solar system.
Hesitantly, Astronema rose the steaming cup to her mouth. The flavor of the liquid wasn't at all pleasant. "Yuck!" she retracted.
Zhane shrugged at her dramatic response, as if slightly humored by it. "Okay, so I'm not the best cook in the world," he decided, rising to his feet with the cup. He moved toward the campfire, and placed his spoon inside the steaming cauldron suspended above the flame. He slowly sipped the soup from the spoon. "Egh, definitely more salt!" he choked, wincing at the bitter taste.
While he was busy tending to the concoction, Astronema had quietly risen to her feet, and procured her scepter, which was left against a tree in perfect view. She pointed the sharp end of the staff at the Silver Ranger's neck, forcing him to turn around.
"I could kill you right now," she threatened, "You know that, don't you?"
"You could," he responded, gazing into her eyes, "but I don't think you will."
Astronema was dumfounded. Why wouldn't she? She was the princess of evil! She'd killed hundreds, if not thousands, of people; whether directly or by command. She'd brought planets to their knees. What would stop her from killing the Silver Ranger? Her enemy?
Whatever it was, it managed to stop her. She couldn't bring herself to attack him, vulnerable as he was.
"Lemme show you something," he said, sticking a soft, white object on the point of her staff. Astronema blinked in surprise as he pushed the staff's tip into the campfire.
"Hey!" she shrieked, "What do you think you're doing?!"
"Its called toasting marshmallows," he answered, raising the point of the staff to her, "Try it."
Astronema's glance turned from the Silver Ranger's expectant face to the white "marshmallow" atop her staff. He didn't seem at all intimidated by her. It was unbelievable. Even Ecliptor trembled at her wrath. Only Dark Specter himself didn't fear her. And here, the arrogant Silver Ranger was feeding her! Who did he think he was?
Still, Astronema took a small bite of the marshmallow. The warm, sweet substance melted in her mouth, and slid down her throat almost gracefully. She could feel an automatic smile tug at her lips as a reaction to the sensation. To her shock, a delighted giggle escaped her. She managed to stop it abruptly, but she couldn't take it back.
"Its good, huh?" he commented, as if satisfied he found something to her liking.
Astronema's smile quickly fell. He was manipulating her somehow! He had to be!
"Don't think I owe you anything!" she declared, raising her staff again to ward off the surprised ranger, "We're enemies, now and forever!"
Strangely enough, he seemed slightly upset by her declaration, as if he didn't want to be her enemy. Why would he react that way? What did he want from her, to keep her alive? What was his game?
Without understanding why, her expression softened into a gentle grin. It felt strange on her face, considering she could count the times she'd grinned without malevolence on one hand. "Thanks for saving me," she whispered, before vanishing from the park.
During her transport, she could hear his voice calling to her. "Astronema! Wait!!"
Part of her almost wanted to return to him. But she didn't.
The sweet taste of the marshmallow still lingered in her mouth. It was light and fluffy, warm, yet it melted in the mouth. It was a sensation that was far different from the bland nutrient squares she had been used to all her life for sustenance. She never knew the joys of eating flavorful foods. Sweet was something she was only familiar with in passing, until that day.
Strangely enough, sweet was the perfect word to describe the Silver Ranger too. She knew him as a stalwart warrior, yet after meeting him face to face, he was someone far different from what she expected. He was courteous and polite, funny and charming. There's no doubt he was handsome, too. And he saved her life.
What was this she was feeling? Why couldn't she stop staring out at the stars, just because they glinted with the same silvery light that reflected off his magnificent armor? And on the rare occasion that she saw a blue star twinkle in the sky, why did it automatically bring to mind his twinkling blue eyes? What was wrong with her?
"Lady Astronema," Ecliptor said quietly, hesitantly stepping into the room. Astronema dropped her necklace, letting it hang freely from her neck. She sat up on her couch, and threw back a stray lock of bleached blonde hair.
"Since when do we enter the chambers of the Princess of Evil without knocking?" she snapped, throwing her henchman a disapproving glare.
"I did knock, Princess, but I grew worried when you did not answer me," was his response. He remained by the entrance, his arms hanging at his sides.
"What do you want?" she asked impatiently.
"I... I wanted to know what was bothering you, my Princess," he said bluntly, "Lately, you've been distracted and solemn. Are you ill?"
Ill. That's a strange way to describe what she was feeling. Not exactly accurate, but similar. Yet... in a good way.
"No," she sighed, "I'd just... like to be alone with my thoughts."
Ecliptor was silent for a moment. "No one... hurt you, did they? The Rangers, perhaps?"
Astronema turned to look at Ecliptor. He was suddenly grasping the hilt of his sword very tightly. A small smile crept on her face. He was always extremely protective of her, almost like a father would be towards a beloved daughter. He was the closest thing she ever had to a companion.
"No. I... I just want to be alone is all."
Ecliptor nodded briskly, and left the room. Astronema returned her gaze to the infinite expanse of outer space. Suddenly, she felt confined within her chamber, or within the Dark Fortress itself. It was hard to ponder about non-evil emotions when surrounded by such darkness and despondency.
"I've got to get out of here," she whispered, rising to her feet. In a flash of violet energy, the Princess of Darkness vanished.
Zhane sat at the helm of the Megaship, leaning back in the comfortable chair with his feet propped on the console. He couldn't understand why Andros wanted someone at the helm at all times. It didn't make sense, considering Alpha 5 was always awake. Still, Andros was always a little paranoid. That must come with losing one's sister to a kidnapper in the peace and security of your own back yard. It leaves an individual suspicious and uneasy, even in the most secure situations.
In any event, Zhane was stuck with the night shift because of the prank he pulled a few days ago, allowing the others to believe he was dying. They still haven't fully forgiven him yet.
"Whatever," Zhane yawned, stretching his arms. The night shift was typically the least eventful, so it wasn't going to require a whole lot of thinking. Just keep his eyes open for anything strange. Pretty vague directions, but considering Zhane had just risen from a two-year sleep, he wasn't ready to close his eyes just yet.
Yet again, he wouldn't mind dreaming. Then, he was at peace to imagine himself with the mysterious and drop-dead-gorgeous object of his affections. Even though she is the head villainess in this sector.
He couldn't believe Astronema was evil. Its true its only a stereotype that beautiful equals good and ugly equals evil... just look at Divatox or the Liarians! Still, it was more than physical beauty (which Astronema did have in ample supply) that drew the Silver Ranger to her.
True, she was a powerful sorceress and an expert warrior. But once she dropped her shields, she was... different. She didn't kill him, when she had the perfect opportunity to balance the odds by ending the career of the Silver Ranger. And when she sank her teeth into the marshmallow, the ring of her delicate giggle was music to his ears. And there was something in her eyes... like a lost child... that glinted from time to time. Of course, she was quite obviously a woman. Yet, evil? That was a question Zhane was determined to answer.
She just can't be evil. At least, not completely evil, like Dark Spectre or something. There's something pure in her... something innocent. Maybe she's under some kind of spell?
"Aye yi yi!" Alpha shrieked from his station towards the back of the bridge. Zhane was so surprised by the sudden disruption of silence that he nearly fell off his seat.
"What is it?" he asked, standing up.
"There's an evil presence on Earth! In Angel Grove Park!"
Zhane's eyebrow rose. "What's it doing there?"
"Nothing. Its not moving, but its there!"
Zhane's countenance wrinkled with confusion. What kind of evil force would go to Earth just to sit there? Unless...
"I'd better check it out," he decided, walking past Alpha. The short robot hurried after him.
"I'll wake the others," he said, turning back into the bridge. Zhane stopped in his tracks, and whirled around.
"No! I mean... that's not necessary. If I need backup, I'll call."
"Trust me," Zhane interrupted, "I think I can handle this one alone."
Astronema sat down on the grass, bringing her knees close to her body and wrapping her arms around her legs. It was slightly colder than in the afternoon, when she awoke to see the Silver Ranger tending to her. It was also colder than that evening, when she waited for half an hour for Zhane to meet her for an ill-fated date. Still, despite the chill, she enjoyed the scenery.
The moon was full, hanging in the sky like a light bulb. The sky was so clear, she could make out various craters adding texture to the moon's surface. Also, a faint aura of light wrapped the moon, giving it a surreal, almost magical glow. It was, in a word, beautiful.
The Princess rested her chin on her knees, and continued to stare at the luminescent moon. In the intense blackness of the night sky, bright stars glinted every now and then. But the moon's gentle glow surpassed them all in beauty and magnitude. A silver orb, resting peacefully and calmly in the sky; so far different from the blazing heat of the sun. The moon was more passive. Even shy, perhaps. That's why it went through phases. Only once a month did it shine in all its glory, completely visible from Earth. Most often only a crescent or otherwise partial moon appeared. Yet every so often, the moon displayed its true, unadulterated beauty, unafraid to shine proudly. The Full Moon was famous for its beauty, yet it was also famous for casting a spell. It made people do things they normally wouldn't do.
Since when did I think like a poet? Astronema thought absently, tightening her arms around her legs. Poets are the ones that see beauty everywhere they look. They recognize the subtle wonders of nature. I am the Princess of Evil. I don't appreciate beauty. I destroy it.
She didn't like that thought, although it was true. Did she really want to live a life of destroying the lives of others? She wasn't really sure. She didn't remember having a choice in the matter. Evil is all she'd ever known. She had nothing to compare it to...
...unless she could compare it to Zhane's affections.
Yet, she couldn't. She didn't know what to think of Zhane. Was he trying to maliciously trick her? Was his kindness some kind of ranger plan to catch her off guard, or have her turn against Dark Spectre? Or... was he genuinely interested in her welfare?
He did carry that photograph of me, she reflected, a small smile on her face. Unfortunately, it didn't last very long. But he also stood me up!
Astronema was so confused, she didn't know what to do. She was never good at judging an individual's honesty or intentions. In fact, she really didn't have many social skills whatsoever. Its much easier to kill someone than take the chance to trust them. Trust was one thing she never did. It was safer that way. She'd never get hurt. A heart of stone can't be broken...
...but it must forever be alone.
"Astronema," a gentle voice said, instantly dispersing Astronema's thoughts. She whirled around in surprise, and looked up. Zhane was standing before her, dressed in casual attire, with one hand held behind his back.
A weapon, no doubt! she thought bitterly, rising to her feet. Before Zhane could react, she had her scepter pointed at him, ready to fire.
"Not again," he moaned.
"What do you have hidden?" she spat, her eyes narrow, "Did you think you could catch me off guard?!"
Yeah... but not the way you're obviously thinking, Zhane reflected, although he didn't voice his thoughts. Instead, he slowly moved his hand out from behind his back. Astronema's hard expression softened as a small box came into view.
"I figured that, based on our previous encounter, you didn't much like long-stem roses," Zhane said, slowly approaching her, "so I decided to get you something else instead."
Despite herself, Astronema giggled at his comment. Apparently, when she fired laser beams (although weak ones) at him for arriving late for their date, he didn't hold it against her.
"Here," he said, stopping just in front of her. Her scepter vanished at her mental command, and she held the small box with both hands. After an inquisitive look at Zhane, she slowly opened the silver wrapping. Her lips stretched into a genuine smile, and she began to laugh.
"Marshmallows!" she said, trying to stop the laughter.
Zhane smiled at her. "Well, I'll take laughter over laser-fire any day."
They laughed together for a while, until the laughter died. They then looked at each other, both unsure what to say or do.
"I... I'm sorry I was late," Zhane said quietly, "but believe me when I say... I didn't mean to stand you up."
Astronema nodded, turning her gaze from Zhane's crystal eyes to the ground. "Yes, well... I guess I can understand why. Ecliptor informed me about... the attack."
They were quiet again for awhile. Astronema swallowed, and turned to face him again. "I'm sorry I fired at you." She couldn't help but think how strange it was to hear herself use the "S" word.
Zhane smiled, and shrugged dismissively. "People have done worse when they get annoyed with me."
The awkward silence returned. Still both were starting to feel slightly more comfortable.
"It's a nice night," Zhane commented, glancing up at the moon, "Not to warm, not too cold. The moon's shining brightly."
"Yes," Astronema added, turning to face the moon as well. The pair stood side by side in the park, gazing at the night sky. "The moon is truly incredible. It reflects the light of the sun, to give the world some light at night."
"Even the darkest night has some light to it," Zhane suddenly said. Astronema blinked, surprised by the masked meaning behind the statement.
"I suppose," she conceded, "but even the brightest star can't shine forever. Eventually the darkness envelops it."
She felt Zhane's gaze on her cheek, but she chose not to return it. The last thing she wanted to do was get into an argument of good vs. evil with him. Not tonight.
"... of course, we aren't taking about the stars," she added, "We're talking about the moon."
"Of course," Zhane said, crossing his arms. "You know the other thing about the moon?"
"Its magnetic pull. It attracts the tides, and there's nothing the water could do to stop it. It's a force of nature."
"Magnetic," she repeated, continuing from that reference, "opposites attract. The more different they are, the stronger the attraction."
"Can't be explained," Zhane said, turning to face her. He gently lifted her chin with the tips of his fingers, his eyes locking with hers. "Can't be fought."
Astronema almost felt dizzy. There she was, her face inches from Zhane's. Wasn't that what she wanted? Isn't that what she feared?
What would Ecliptor think of her kissing the Silver Ranger? What would Dark Spectre think?
Was she going soft?
As their lips inched closer and closer together, Astronema decided not to care. After all, what her allies didn't know wouldn't hurt them.
Perhaps she wasn't thinking clearly. Perhaps she was under a spell. Supposedly the Full Moon makes people do strange, inexplicable things. Even the mighty, unpredictable ocean gives way to the pull of the moon. The strongest Reason sometimes gives way to the torrent of Passion.
They'll both worry about the consequences later.