Author's Note: This has become a solo project for the time being. The basic idea for the series was Thunderlight's. So, if you like this story, drop me a line. This story takes place after Astronema is recaptured by Darkonda and reprogrammed. CD2D does not happen in this time line. This is the second story in the ‘Once, and Great Power' series, after ‘The Power'. You might want to go back and read the first story before you read this one, or you might be lost. Oh, and a special thanks to those on the board who were willing to help with the name for my new villain, though I didn't use any of the names given. Thank you, guys, for your help. Thanx.
Zhane breathed carefully. He wasn't sure, but it felt like one of his ribs was broken.
If only he could get through to Karone. He could tell that she was fighting. If there was a way he could help her win.
He was a fool.
He remembered how Astronema had tricked him into her trap.
He'd planed on leaving KO-35 to meet up with Andros and the others on Earth.
Once his bags were packed, he left to tell Kinwon and Tykva that he was leaving. They wished him well, and were saddened to see him leave.
Knowing that he wouldn't be back for some time, he decided to take a quick walk trough the abandoned city one more time. The streets were quiet. He felt at peace here. Then a sudden sound caught his attention. Taking care, he grasped his blaster, flicked off the safety, and made his way, slowly, to where the sound had come from.
Pressed against part of a fallen wall, he peered carefully around it's jagged edge.
"Zhane, help me!" Zhane entered the demolished building.
There in the center, bound with a rope, sat Karone. Sensing that this might be a trap, he glanced around, waiting for Ecliptor or Darkonda to attack him.
"Help me, please? Darkonda left me here. He knows that you are here, and he's trying to find you. Hurry. He'll be back anytime now."
"How do I know this isn't a trap?"
"Please. I just want to go home. Wherever that is, now." Karone looked down at her feet. A single tear sliding down her pale cheek.
Zhane was at war with himself. He wanted to believe her, but he had learned, over the years, not to trust anyone.
Giving into the side that cared deeply about her; he slid his blaster back into the holster on his hip, and cautiously made his way to her side.
Kneeling before her, he tilted her head up and brushed the fiery, red hair away from her face. She smiled at him.
A gasp escaped his lips when he noticed the dark bruise and swollen lip.
"Ecliptor. He decided to take sides with Darkonda. We've got to get out of here." She gazed around them. Fear written on her face.
Quickly, Zhane spun around behind her. Taking the knife from his boot, he easily cut through the ropes; the whole time keeping an eye out for either or both, Ecliptor and Darkonda.
Once the ropes were cut, Karone stood unsteadily to her feet, rubbing the abrasions on her wrists. Zhane placed an arm around her shoulders for support. "Thank you."
"We're not out of here yet." Zhane stated, matter-of-fact.
Once again, he armed himself with his blaster.
Carefully they picked their way through the empty streets to where Zhane's Galaxy Glider waited.
Karone, weakened by the abuse, kept stumbling when she turned to look around them.
Unexpectedly, Zhane was knocked to the ground. The air forced out of him. He could taste the light sting of coppery blood in his mouth.
"No!" He heard Karone yell.
"It's time to come home Princess."
"Ecliptor!" Zhane glared up at him. Ecliptor held Karone around the shoulders, the blade of his sword at her throat.
"Drop it, or you both die." Feeling helpless, Zhane let the blaster slip from his numb fingers, to clatter on the ground at his feet. "Get to your feet!"
Without taking his eyes off Ecliptor, Zhane carefully stood. Absently, he brushed his fingers across his lip and gazed down a the blood smearing his fingertips.
Without warning, Ecliptor flung Karone at him. With quick reflexes, Zhane caught her, just barely keeping both of them from ending up on the ground again.
"What do you want Ecliptor?" It was a stupid question, but he felt even stupider just standing there quietly.
He could feel Karone's breath on his neck as she whispered into his ear. "I just want you...and your little friends too!" Zhane pushed her away from him.
"Your were expecting someone else? I'm hurt. Where are they!" And evil smile creased her lips. How could he have been so blind? Zhane asked while he mentally beat himself.
It wasn't long before Astronema had him aboard the Dark Fortress and in her dungeon.
Now, as he sat here; contemplating her words, he had no doubt in his mind what she would do with him.
"I only hope Andros and the others can forgive me."
Andros walked the desolate streets of the city. Kinwan had told them that Zhane had come here before he left. Maybe there would be a clue to his whereabouts. Something had to be wrong. It wasn't like Zhane to just up and disappear without telling someone.
"I found something!" Came a voice from somewhere down the deserted street.
Andros ran toward the voice, quickly followed by Cassie.
Carlos stood by a pile of rubble, holding a blaster in his hand. From behind him, Andros could see TJ and Ashley approaching. Each had their hands on their blasters, ready at a moments notice.
"What did you see?" Andros asked, as he gazed around for any shadowy figures lurking in the growing darkness.
"Then why do you have your blaster out?" TJ asked.
"I don't. This isn't mine." Carlos indicated the blaster in his hand.
The Rangers pulled their gazes away from the blaster in his hand, and for the first time, noticed the one still strapped to his hip.
"Where did you find it?" Ashley asked as they neared him.
Cassie felt an overwhelming sense of panic wash over her. They had to get out of here, and away from KO-35, as quickly as possible.
"Guys..." She started, but her words were washed away by the conversation around Carlos.
"It was in there. I think it's Zhane's." Carlos handed the blaster to Andros. Who would know better than him, if the blaster was Zhane's?
Andros took it, hesitantly. As soon as the cool metal touched his fingers, he shook. The Rangers watched, not speaking a word. He turned the blaster slowly over, in his hands. There, on the butt of the blaster, carved into the silver metal, was two interlocking hearts. Andros remembered seeing Zhane carving them, shortly after Karone had been captured by Darkonda.
"It's Zhane's." Andros looked up, but not at the Rangers. He seemed to be looking past them.
"You think it was Kar...Astronema?" Ashley quickly changed the name she was about to say, when Andros turned an angry gaze on her.
"I think it's safe to assume that is the case. So, what do we do now? We need help fighting Astronema, that's why we've got the Grid." TJ stated.
Andros sighed. It was a tough decision. Should he go after Zhane and rescue him, putting all of them in danger without the needed help behind them? Or, just hope that Zhane can handle it on his own, and go in search of the x-Rangers, and this...Billy, who can help them to use the Morphin Grid's power?
"How can we fight Astronema if we don't have the power? We wouldn't be doing Zhane any good if we got ourselves captured or killed. We need to find the x-Rangers, and find out where Billy is." The Rangers watched as Andros strode away from them, and the city.
"I hope he's right." Carlos voiced, as he followed him.
"Me, too." Cassie stated as she brought up the rear. She couldn't help feeling that things were going to get a whole lot worse before they got any better.
"They are in the city, my Princess." Ecliptor stated as he entered her private chambers.
She sat at the window, staring out at the planet below them. There were voices in her head. Pictures flashing in her mind. She had suddenly felt a deep sense of guilt. The only thing that kept her from running to the prisoner, and setting him free, was the louder, stronger, darker voice.
Ecliptor stood silently, watching her. She hadn't seemed to have heard him.
It was strange that her emotions would play a big roll in his own feelings. He had raised her from a child, and cared for her like a daughter. If she would have asked him, he would have let her go. It was not in him to deny her anything.
A deep voice, one filled with caring, entered her mind above the rest. Wiping the tears from her eyes, she turned to face the only one she trusted.
"The Rangers are in the city. Should we strike now?"
"No...I have a plan. And we'll need our new weapon to carry it out. Bring the prisoner to the lab. We start the reprogramming...now." Ecliptor bowed and left the room.
"You can't do this. I won't let you!"
"I can, and I will." Astronema screamed. She placed her fisted hand over the right side of her head. She could feel the cold, metal reminder of her own reprogramming. But, the voice wouldn't leave. She remembered the voice. What it represented, and who it belonged to. "Karone is DEAD! Leave me be!"
Quickly she stormed from her chambers, as if she could ever leave the voice behind.
Zhane struggled against the cold hands that were dragging him down the Dark Fortress' corridors. He had accidentally fallen asleep; fool that he was.
He'd quickly come to his senses when he heard the heavy steps of Ecliptor. He knew why they were there, but he wouldn't go without a fight.
He'd worked the ropes off of his wrists, and had waited patiently for the opportunity to present itself. It took all of his will power to remain where he was; giving the pretense that he was still bound.
"It's time Silver Ranger. Your new destiny awaits you."
Zhane felt the cold biting steel of Ecliptor's sword as it was thrust under his chin, forcing his head up, to look into Ecliptor's eyes.
In a movement, that not only surprised Ecliptor and the horde of Quantrons, but himself as well; he kicked his leg out, disarming Ecliptor, and giving himself a moment to get to his feet.
Ecliptor staggered back into the group of Quantrons. This was most unexpected. Quickly he gathered himself and turned...
Zhane was gone.
Ecliptor spun around, to meet Zhane's roundhouse kick, head on. Zhane took his fighting stance. Ecliptor lay on the floor, struggling to clear his head and get to his feet.
Zhane smile. They might take him, but not without a fight.
"What's wrong Ecliptor? Have you fallen and can't get up? Come on you metal heads!"
"Get him you imbeciles!" Ecliptor ordered.
The Quantrons filed in after Zhane. He held his ground well, for the first ten, but soon, there were more of them than he could handle. A blow to the back of his head brought him to his knees.
"Take him to the lab!" Ecliptor yelled. He followed behind, as the Quantrons began to drag the prisoner down the corridor.
The doors to the lab opened upon a pacing Astronema.
"What took you so long?" She yelled.
"I'm sorry my Princess. The prisoner had gotten loose of his bindings. It took a few moments to get him back under control." Astronema watched as Zhane struggled against the hands that held him. A light bruise marred his left cheek.
Slowly she approached him, a wicked smile turning her lips. "You won't be struggling for much longer. You'll do anything I ask." She sauntered away from him.
Once again, Zhane broke away. Quickly, he grasped Astronema by the shoulders and spun her around. Before she, or anyone else could react, he pressed his lips against hers in a deep kiss.
The Quantrons finally grabbed him and pulled him away. A smile was etched on his face. Astronema stood still, eyes fixed on Zhane. A hand wandered aimlessly to her slightly swollen lips.
"Fight her Karone! You can win! We all can!" Astronema blinked a few times, the voice calling to her in her mind. Closing her eyes, she took a deep breath. When she opened them, they burned with a red light.
"Strap him down. Start the reprogramming this instant!" As she turned to leave, she could hear Zhane yelling Karone's name out; over and over again. She could hear the tearing of cloth, as his shirt was ripped from his body.
Finally, the door closed behind her, sending the corridor into a deathly silence. Hiding her face in her hands, she leaned against the cool gray wall. The voice in her head, growing louder. Demanding to be heard.
A sudden scream reached out to her. It echoed down the empty corridor. Astronema's head snapped up and she turned her gaze to the closed door. A single tear sliding down her pale cheek. Pushing herself away from the wall, she raced down the hall to her private chamber. She didn't hear the door open behind her, or see the dark, crystalline figure emerge from it.
Ecliptor watched as she disappeared around the corner. "My Princess." He whispered to himself. Then disappeared back into the lab, the door closing silently behind him once more.
Andros had reached the cities limits, when TJ had finally caught up with him.
"Stop Andros." Andros came to a stop, and TJ knew that if he didn't reach Andros' side quickly, Andros would continue walking away.
TJ quickened his pace and moved to stand in front of him. Andros only stared past him, at some point beyond TJ's shoulder. TJ could see the rest of the team approaching behind him.
"You made the right decision. We can't defeat Astonima alone, and we'd be no good to Zhane dead. I know you're blaming yourself for Karone's capture, but things would have been worse if you, or both of you, were captured." Just then Ashley joined them.
"TJ's right. We have to find the x-Rangers and Billy, so that we can get the help we need from the Morphin Grid. Then we can get Zhane back." Andros looked into her eyes.
He didn't think it would ever happen. But he was falling in love with this Earth woman. And her and TJ's words were true. The needs of the many out way the needs of the few...or one.
"You all weren't going to leave without me...were you?" The Rangers jumped at the sound of the familiar voice. Cassie still held her blaster in her hands, and now she found herself pointing it at the familiar figure.
"Zhane." Andros called. Relief flooded his words. "How did you get away?" The thought that Zhane had escaped, put them all on the alert.
"Oh, it was actually quite easy." Slowly he began to circle the group, counter clockwise. Something wasn't right. Cassie could feel it.
"We need to get out of here." Cassie stated as she watched Zhane carefully, as he circled them.
"Come on Zhane. Let's get aboard the Mega Ship, and get out of here. We've got what we need for the extra help fighting Astronema." TJ said. But Zhane kept pacing in a circle.
"Zhane? Are you all right?" Cassie asked. The worry evident in her shaky voice. Andros moved past her and noticed her blaster aimed at Zhane. Slowly Andros made his way toward his friend.
"What happened to you? You've been missing for over a week now. Are you okay?" Andros asked.
Zhane finally stopped. "I'm great." He turned to face the group. "I've never felt better in my whole life." Andros could hear the expletives from TJ and Carlos, as well as the gasps of surprise from the girls.
Covering the right side of Zhane's face, was a controlling device. An exact duplicate of Astronema's. A red light lit his eyes.
With reflexes, quicker than Andros had ever seen, Zhane attacked him, sending him flying into the startled group. "I'm GREAT! But, alas poor Zhane, I knew him well...Andros. Zhane is no longer with us, that cowardly, pansy boy. I'm ARCUS!"
TJ and Carlos helped an angry, and shaken Andros to his feet. As he glares menacingly at Zhane he calls out, "Let's Rocket!"
In flashes of Pink, Yellow, Blue, Black and Red, the group transform into the Lightstar Rangers.
Without a word, the man who had once been Zhane, friend, ally and Ranger, attacked with blinding speed. Each Ranger; tossed aside like a leaf. When each Ranger righted him/herself, they gazed around at each other.
"Where's Andros!" Carlos questioned, when they saw that their Red clad leader was no where to be seen.
Quickly, they glanced around. "There!" Cassie cried, pointing to the top of a tall, dilapidated building.
Above them all, dangled Andros, Zhane's hands wrapped tightly around his throat.
"Zhane. You can't do this. You're...you're one of us." The most evil laugh he had ever heard, and he'd heard his fare share, drifted from Zhane's smug lips.
Gazing down, he saw the rest of the team advancing toward them. Releasing one hand, Zhane brought it to his face. A bright ball of Red Light began to form in the palm of his hand. In one quick motion, he sent the ball of light toward the Rangers. Quickly, they tried to retreat, but the impact knocked them off their feet.
"Your struggles are useless. We have defeated you. Accept it with honor. It's time to die Red Ranger, and the others will soon follow."
"You don't know the...meaning of the word." Andros tossed back to him. With a great show of strength, Zhane tossed Andros from the top of the five story building.
The recovering Rangers collected themselves just in time to see Andros' struggling body flung from the building before them, and begin to fall toward the ground.
"No!" Ashley screamed, and headed toward him. Quickly she was followed by the others.
Not once did Andros' eyes leave Zhane's. He felt the weightlessness as his body drifted through the air. He knew there would be pain, but he wouldn't give up yet. He would fight Dark Specter for the souls of his sister and best friend, for the souls of all mankind.
A pain, like fire, ripped through every nerve in his body. In the distance he could hear voices. Above him were the fuzzy images of...people? Then there was a darkness, darker than the depths of hell, and it began to engulf him, and he welcomed it, for it would take away the pain.
Ashley reached Andros' lifeless body, just moments after it crashed into the rubble below, and demorphed.
"Alpha, DECA! Get us out of here!"
"You won't get away that easy!" Before Zhane could get to the closest Ranger, the Pink Ranger, they all disappeared in a rainbow of bright light. "AAARRRGGHHHHH!"
"We have to find the x-Rangers. There's no way we can fight, and win, against someone who knows us better than we know ourselves." TJ stated.
Alpha entered the bridge. Everyone jumped to their feet, except TJ, who remained seated, staring at the containment field that held the Morphin Grid.
"How is he, Alpha?" Ashley asked. Cassie placed a comforting hand on her shoulder.
"He's broken up pretty bad, but a few hours on the med-bed, will make him almost as good as new." Ashley let out a breath of relief.
"Well, I guess we'd better get started. We should go to Angel Grove first. That's where we'll find Jason and Justin. Then on to Stone Canyon for Rocky, Colorado for Trini, Indiana for Tommy, Florida for Kim, New York for Zack and Tanya, then over to England for Kat, and Africa for Aisha. And no one seems to know where Billy is. Maybe one of them will know." Cassie said, reading from the list in her hands.
"I guess we're heading back to Earth." Carlos stated.
"Yeah." Was TJ's reply. And the Morphin Grid
pulsed brighter at the words.