Legal Disclaimer: The Power Rangers are property of Saban Entertainment. Blanche is mine, though, please don't use her anywhere without asking me first, or anyone else here that you don't recognize. This fanfic takes place after "The Silver Secret", and totally ignores the timeline after that. My apologies to those who love the Astronema/Zhane romance.

A Silver Lining
by Joy Bailey

It was a quiet day on the MegaShip. No one had heard from Astronema since she had tried to destroy the fully recharged Zhane, and the Astro Rangers were enjoying the break, each in their own particular way. Cassie was on duty on the bridge, scanning the universe for someone she desperately wanted to talk to, while DECA and Alpha both kept an eye out for any sign of Zordon or one of Astronema's attacks. Carlos, T.J., and Zhane had went down to Angel Grove, with the two Earth-born Rangers intending to teach their new friend about the planet they tended to spend so much time on.

Andros and Ashley were on the Simudeck, working with a new program that the Red Ranger had made just for the lovely young girl he found himself so unbelievably attracted to. And she likes me too, he still found that somewhat amazing. After all his years alone, he had not only his best friend back, but had met someone he cared about a great deal, who cared for him in return.

Who knows, it could be just like old times again, with me, Ashley, Zhane, and. ..the Red Ranger's thoughts trailed off, and he paled just the tiniest bit. Oh, no. I forgot. I promised her I wouldn't, and I did. How stupid can I be?

"Andros?" Ashley touched his hand gently, catching his attention. He looked so surprised, then so serious and sad for a moment. She hoped that she hadn't accidentally done something wrong; the two of them came from utterly different worlds and were still working out the general rules where dating and relationships were concerned. "Are you all right?"

He shook his head for a moment, clearing his thoughts. "Yeah. I just remembered something I've got to tell Zhane as soon as I can, that's all."

"Oh?" the Yellow Ranger raised one eyebrow in curiosity. "What is it?"

"Nothing important," Andros tasted the lie on his tongue, and shivered at the very thought of it. His friend wasn't going to like it very much when he found out what had happened during those two years of hyper-sleep. There was nothing I could do about it, he reminded himself as harshly as he could. There never HAS been anything I could do about so much. But I will at least tell Zhane when he and the guys get back from Earth. I wonder how he'd doing down there, I know it's kind of weird your first time.

All thoughts of Earth and his fellow male Rangers vanished, however, when Ashley held out a cupcake to him, one she'd made herself, not something she'd gotten from the Synthetron. He was almost hesitant to take it, not certain of her cooking ability, then when he saw the look in her eyes, changed his mind. Some of the things I've eaten the past few years, I can certainly handle a bad-tasting cupcake, if I have to, he decided, picking it up and biting into it without any outward show of hesitation.

The confection almost literally seemed to melt in his mouth, spreading a delight upon his tongue that no language had words for, he believed. He smiled warmly at her, squeezing her hand suddenly. "What did you put in this thing?" he asked. "It tastes incredible!"

Ashley's cheeks flushed a deep red. "It's flavored with love," she whispered, hopefully too low for him to hear her. The last thing she really wanted was a premature declaration of an emotion she wasn't quite positive he shared as completely as she did just yet.

* * *

"Hey, Carlos, T.J." Adelle Ferguson waved at the Black and Blue Rangers as they entered the Surf Spot with Zhane in tow. "Who's your friend?"

Carlos grinned. "This is Zhane Andrews," he introduced the Silver Ranger. "He's new in town, he's never even had a hamburger or fries!"

Adelle's eyes widened as she took in the blonde Ranger. "That does it, I'm cooking you up a Surf Spot Special!" she declared, hustling to the kitchen. "You guys grab a table, I'll be right with you!"

Zhane blinked a little as he looked around taking in the decorations all around him. "So what's the difference between the food here and from the Synthetron?" he hadn't been very certain about going to Earth with the male Rangers, but with Andros and Ashley rather wrapped up in each other and Cassie looking high and low for someone, there wasn't much else to do until Astronema attacked again.

"It tastes a lot better here," T.J. said, guiding his friends to a table. He was somewhat glad to see Bulk and Skull weren't around, the last thing he wanted to do was have to explain them and that nutty professor they'd started to hang out with to Zhane. Earth was complicated enough, the lifeforms on it. ..well, one thing at time! "And it's real."

The Silver Ranger frowned a little. "What the Synthetron does is real," he muttered, glancing around at the palm fronds, surfboards, and other decorations. "It's a nice place," he admitted. "It kind of reminds me of my favorite restaurant on KO-35," he reminisced just a little, his eyes darkening a tiny bit. "I'd go there all the time. ..."

Carlos and T.J. both noticed he'd stopped before finishing the sentence. They'd learned after six months of travels with Andros, however, not to press someone who obviously wanted to keep their secrets to themselves. Both of them suspected they'd find out what their friend was thinking of sooner or later.

Zhane glanced back over to them, smiling a little when he saw the worried expressions on their faces. He knew they were concerned about him, how was adjusting to being awake again. Andros was worried as well, but the Red Ranger concealed it far better. Over the past two years, things had obviously happened to his best friend that Zhane wondered about. The brief history lesson had done very little for him, had only actually raised more questions than it had answered. I need to ask him about her, he thought quietly, his fingers clenching lightly around the napkin he'd absently picked up. I have to find out if she's all right.

Something told him that she wasn't though. There was something about the way Andros had been subtly avoiding the subject, not quite dancing around it, but hinting without knowing it there were things he didn't quite want Zhane to know just yet. He had said that during that two year period of time he'd had a different team of Rangers, but just what had happened to them the Red Ranger hadn't said. Zhane had a very strong feeling that he didn't want to know himself.

"Here you go!" he looked up to see the cheery face of an plump man in a Hawaiian shirt putting a plate of food down in front of him. "Compliments of Adelle!"

Carlos looked over at him. "I don't think I've seen you around here before," he said. He knew the Rangers were often gone for long periods of time, but he thought he'd at least recognize someone like this! The guy was almost huge!

"Name's Ernie," the man smiled, dusting off a near-by table. "I used to own the Juice Bar across town, till I had to go to South America for about two years or so. Finally got back, and Lieutenant Stone was doing such a good job, I couldn't take it away from him, and he didn't need help. But Adelle did, so we went into partnership together."

T.J. waved. "Nice to meet you, Ernie," he said politely. "I'm T.J., that's Carlos, and this is Zhane," he gestured to the third member of their little group, who was poking a bit hesitantly at the food in front of him. "He's new in town."

"I can see," the cheery man smiled, then headed back to the kitchen, smiling when they couldn't see him. So this is what the new generation of Rangers is like. I wondered where they'd went once they stopped hanging around the Youth Center. Jerome was right, I think they're going to do just fine. Good luck, guys.

* * *

Cassie Chan, the Pink Space Ranger, formerly the Pink Turbo Ranger, was practically glaring at the viewscreen as she scanned throughout space. DECA was looking for Zordon, but Cassie was looking for someone else altogether. She wanted to find the wise old mentor just as much as her friends did, but another held a major place in her thoughts and heart.

I guess one of the reasons I came into space was to find him again, she thought, flipping a few switches and typing in another line of code to the search parameters, one she remembered from her days in the Power Chamber. I knew that's where he came from, and where he went to. We've already met him again once. But I want to do more than just see him once a year or so. I want to BE with him.

Ever since Andros and Ashley had started dating, Cassie had felt just a little left out. She knew the other three male Rangers felt the same way, but they didn't have anyone in their hearts. She did. Or do I? she wondered. Did he feel the same way she did? Or was he a player, did he have 'a girl on every planet', she wondered. No, she shook her head. That can't be. I have to find out if it is, anyway. I HAVE to know. I can't be at peace until I know.

She stared unrelentingly at the controls in front of her, ordering them to reveal what she had been searching for, who she had been searching for. She almost imagined they were staring balefully back at her, taunting her with the ability to find him, but not doing so out of sheer spite. She almost asked DECA if that were possible, then reined in her imagination. There were some things that just weren't possible, even for the Power Rangers.

"But love should be possible," she murmured under her breath. "Especially for us."

It started like a presence in her heart. A murmur in her soul, something she couldn't explain. She'd felt it before, and only in one particular set of circumstances. A few times on Earth. Once in space. But always and only when one particular thing was about to happen. Her heart pounding and her blood rushing through her veins, she lifted her head to look at the viewscreen. A smile spread across her face when she realized it really was him there. "Hello. . .Phantom Ranger," she said, just loud enough for the sensors to catch and transmit it to him.

"I thought you would get in touch with me sooner or later, Cassie," his voice did what it had always did to her, sending chills up her spine and a flutter in her heart. "I've been waiting for it, actually."

Cassie trembled, her fingers wrapping around the seat she was in. "You have? I. .I've been wanting to talk to you for a long time. I've. ..we've. .been worried about you."

"I know," Phantom's voice was very deep and quiet. "I would have been in contact with you sooner, but I've been tracing down various leads on Zordon's location and have not been able to spare the time as yet. But I knew you would reach out to me."

"How? How did you know?"

There seemed to be a smile on his face, at least there was one in his voice when he answered the question after a few moments of silence. "Meet me on Earth, in the park, in one hour, at these co ordinates. I'll explain there. And. . .," he seemed to take a deep breath. "I'll explain everything there. Please."

Her heart almost stopped with pure joy. "Sure," she breathed the word almost with fear, almost afraid to say anything that could possibly make him change his mind. "I'll ...see you then."

He nodded, then the viewscreen went blank. Cassie sat for a moment, literally shaking with mixed joy and fear and excitement. Then, she leaped up. "An hour," she half-shouted. "How in the world am I going to get everything ready in just an hour?"

"Cassie?" she looked over to see Alpha-6 looking at her curiously. "What's wrong?"

"Nothing!" she grinned. "Tell the others I went to Earth for a little while. I'll be back later."

She didn't wait around to hear what he said, tearing down the hallway to her small quarters and mentally running over every outfit she had, wondering just what you wore on your first meeting with someone you loved, but hadn't seen in roughly three months?

* * *

Fifteen minutes later, T.J. and Carlos were watching as Zhane stared half-mindlessly into his scoured clean plate. Once he'd actually started eating, and it had dawned on his taste buds just how good this food was, he'd been wolfing it down like there was no tomorrow. Ernie and Adelle were kept jumping feeding him, and T.J. knew for a fact they'd set a record for the most amount of food cooked for a single person in a single quarter of an hour.

"Something's on your mind, isn't it, Zhane?" Carlos asked quietly. He knew that Andros and their newest teammate had been friends for longer than he'd even known any of the Rangers on the team at all, but he was bound and determined to get to know this man who'd literally risen from the ice to join them on their quest. Once Andros had explained about Zordon and his capture, Zhane had sworn that he would help them in any way he possibly could. But now, something was definitely distracting him.

Zhane looked up at them. He had always made friends easily, even with some who never thought they could, would, or should have friends, like Andros. The Red Space Ranger had been a loner for years until Zhane had entered his life, and it had taken the work of almost a month before his chilly demeanor had melted. That had ended with their decision to work together to defend KO-35, becoming the invincible team that they eventually had. He knew he would become friends with these two as well, and they were already reaching out for him emotionally.

Might as well tell them, he thought. I'm going to be talking with Andros when we get back to the MegaShip, and find out just what's happened that he hasn't told me about yet.

He took a deep breath. "I was thinking about Zhandra," he told them quietly. "Before Dark Spectre invaded KO-35, she was my girlfriend. We went just about everywhere together, to the beach, to entertainments, anywhere and everywhere. It was a threesome a lot of the time, though, cause Andros was with us a lot," he couldn't help but grin. "A foursome on occasion, if he ever unbent enough to get a date. Never did see him dating the same girl twice, though. They never liked the fact they couldn't get past that mental shell of his."

Carlos and T.J. both grinned, they'd seen the same thing themselves. Zhane continued with his story. "Zhandra and I loved each other very much," he said. "About a week before the last battle with Spectre, she and I pledged each other our hearts and souls. In your terms," he pondered the things he'd learned for a few moments. "We became engaged. We were making all manner of plans for our union, until the invasion. Then. ..nothing was ever the same again."

He winced just a bit at that. How could anything ever be the same again, after you'd been in hypersleep for two straight years, and your best friend hadn't told you the complete truth about what had happened during those years? He looked at the other two. "Has Andros ever told you what happened before you met him?"

T.J. shook his head. "The only reason he even told us about you was because we happened across your cryochamber just before you woke up."

"He's like that," Zhane sighed. "But ever since I woke up, I've been wondering what has happened to her. Andros didn't mention anything about her or almost any of my friends from before the attack. I'm going to ask him when we get back to the Ship. I've got to find out where she is, if something's happened to her."

His eyes flicked to the above, and he sighed briefly. I will find out what happened to you, Zhandra. I will.

* * *

"So," shadowed eyes watched the Rangers from the Dark Fortress, and Astronema, the Princess of Evil, smiled wickedly. "The Silver Ranger does have a weakness. He misses his old girlfriend. Quite excellent."

She rose from where she'd been watching the Rangers on her viewscreen, and walked over to the window, staring at the circling planet beneath them. It had been too long, really, since she'd done something to the Rangers. Almost a full day. If she didn't do something soon, they were going to start looking for Zordon again, and she couldn't have that.

But what to do, exactly? A monster can't love, but it can pretend to love. Possibly long enough to fool him. Then again, if he catches on too soon, he would just destroy it, and that would be a waste of a perfectly good monster. Remember, Astronema, think better, not harder. I have to have something. . .or someone. . .that the Rangers won't or can't destroy if they find out the truth. And I'm not stupid enough to think that they won't figure it out sooner or later. The problem is making certain that it's LATER. So much later that it won't do any good.

"My princess," she looked up when Ecliptor spoke to her. He was holding several sheets of paper in his hands. "The reports you requested of Dark Spectre's other conquests."

"Yes," she nodded, gesturing for him to put them down on the table. "I'll look over them in a minute." he was about to turn and leave when she called for him to stop. "Ecliptor, the Silver Ranger is on Earth, thinking about some old love of his. I want to use this against him, possibly even destroy them, but I need a plan. Something. . .devastating."

Ecliptor nodded slowly, thinking. "Does he know of the fate of his old love or is he simply missing her?" he wondered.

"From what he was telling the others, he doesn't know. He intends to ask the Red Ranger once they return," for a moment, she toyed with the idea of sending a few dozen Quantrons down to the Surf Spot and watching them get kicked around, unable to morph because of all the civilians. No, there's still three on the MegaShip that could come down and fight, she reminded herself. A villainess had to think of everything, that was why all those who had come up against Earth before had failed, they'd always forgotten something. Divatox had succeeded only through sheer blind luck. Astronema intended to make certain her victories were a bit more planned.

"The best idea would be to wait until all the information is in," her green guardian advised. "If we move without full knowledge, the plan could be flawed and the Rangers would see right through it."

Astronema smiled briefly. "Very true, Ecliptor. We shall wait then," she sat back down behind the table and began to thumb through the reports he'd brought to her. She wanted to see if there were any other people out there who might possibly help the Rangers, so she could stop them before they got the chance. She made a mental note to check into the affairs of Triforia and Aquitar, Rangers from both those worlds had been allied to the Rangers of Earth at one point, and she wanted to be certain they didn't again.

* * *

All of the Rangers except Cassie, who was off on some mission of her own according to Alpha, gathered on the bridge shortly after Zhane told Carlos and T.J. about Zhandra. The Silver Ranger's eyes were somewhat stern as he looked at the leader of the Space Rangers.

"Andros," he said firmly. "You told me a lot of what happened while I was in hypersleep, and I'm glad. But you've left out some things too, some very important things. Important to me. I have just one question. What happened to Zhandra?"

They could all see how the Red Ranger stiffened just a little at that. Zhane was standing right in front of the only doors off the bridge, blocking the escape route he might have tried to use to avoid answering, and everyone else had their eyes on him, curious and wondering just what was going on. Andros sighed mentally, he'd known he couldn't keep it from him forever, both because of his best friend's curiosity and the promise he'd made before. ..

He sat down in his chair, and looked at the floor for a moment. "After you were injured," he said quietly. "The High Council of KO-35 decided it was too dangerous for just one person to try and defend the planet. They already had the other morphers ready, and picked four people from all over K0-35 to use them. Sraola became the Yellow Ranger. Tranix was the Black. Erion was the Blue," he took a deep breath. This was going to be rough. "Zhandra was the Pink Ranger. She insisted. She believed if she had been with us in that fight, you might not have gone down. There wasn't anything I could do, you know how determined she was, and how much of a fighter. She insisted on joining the team."

Zhane's eyes went wide, and he seized hold of one of the chairs, almost sensing what Andros was going to say next. His friend continued the tale. "For six months we fought together, and Zhandra lived every moment hoping that you would be healed and return. She was so proud of her powers, and she couldn't wait for you to wake up so you could see her in all her glory."

His voice trembled for a moment. "Then came the last attack. It was massive, beyond what we'd faced together. Dark Spectre had our measure by then, and he knew what to do to take us out. One by one, they all fell. Tranix was first, taken with a shot from behind. Erion and Sraola went down together, saving a little child. Zhandra. . .Zhandra and I fought together until the end. Spectre had some sort of weapon, it deactivated morphed Rangers whenever they came into it's radius. She ran ahead of me, and into it's path. The minute she was demorphed. ..," he didn't dare look at Zhane just then, he knew the look of pain that would be marked all over his friend's face. "The lasers came out of nowhere. She survived long enough to. . .to take out the weapon before it could demorph me too. She saved my life, but at the cost of her own. ..and she made me promise to tell you. . .."

Andros slowly got to his feet and walked over to his friend, and saw that look on his face, one of raw agony. "She told me to tell you this," he said quietly. "Zhane, I love you. I have loved you always, and will forever. Whenever you learn of this, find another. Be happy, even if we can't be together. Know that I will always be a part of you. Farewell, my love."

Tears stood in both KO-35ian Rangers eyes in that moment, and Zhane didn't stop his. Quietly they cascaded down his cheeks, as Andros finished the tale. "After everyone fled the planet, I brought their bodies to the Great Cemetery, and buried them all there. We. .can go see it if you like?"

"Not now," Zhane choked. "Maybe. ..some other time."

In a streak of silver light, he was gone from the MegaShip. Andros nodded to himself a little. He knew his friend was going to need some time alone to heal, and to deal. Quietly he made his way to his own chambers. He had some thinking of his own to do.

* * *

The click of heels sounded loudly in the echoing hallways as Astronema, Ecliptor by her side, marched through a building. Long rows of cells, mostly empty, were on each side of the hallway they swept through. Those few who were occupied held dirty, hopeless looking beings of all types, most of whom didn't even bother to look up as they were passed by.

"I had no idea there were so many of them," the princess murmured as they came to a slightly better guarded area of the prison. "The records said very little about the common prisoners."

Ecliptor shrugged. "The ones you want are this way," he gestured up a staircase. Normally they might've been stopped by some of the guards, but Ecliptor, and the cold look in Astronema's eyes, marked them both as high officials in Dark Spectre's Alliance of Evil. No one dared to get in their way as they headed to where only certain types of prisoners were kept.

Someone did step in front of them, however. "What is your business here?" the guardsman looked somewhat like Goldar, only in pale gray armor instead.

"I am Astronema, Princess of Evil," the woman said, looking disdainfully at the functionary. "I am here to take charge of one of these special prisoners for one of my plans against the Power Rangers who search for Zordon."

An equally evil smile spread across the functionary's face. "Which one did you have in mind? We have three who could be very useful, I'm certain."

Astronema smiled wickedly. She couldn't spy on the MegaShip itself, but she'd seen Zhane teleport down to Earth and seen the emotional distress he was in. The name he'd spoken, Zhandra, she had cross-referenced with KO-35, and had come up with something interesting: his girlfriend was the Pink Ranger who had been killed in the final invasion. That had given her this idea. "The one they call "Blanche". Where can I meet with her?"

The functionary gestured to an off chamber. "I'll bring her in. Just be careful, she's still dangerous, you know. Even now."

"I don't think I have anything to worry about," Astronema chuckled, marching into the indicated place. The only furnishings it had were a small table and two chairs, and she claimed one of them at once. Her eyes danced just the tiniest bit at the thought of the deception she was about to play. Ecliptor took up a guard stance near her, obviously wary of this entire place. Despite being in a stronghold of evil, there was still enough residual goodness from some of the captives to nauseate him.

Long moments passed in silence, until the armored ape returned, this time with a tall humanoid behind him, being dragged by a leash attached to a collar around her neck. Astronema glanced up and down, taking her in. By Earth standards, she was tall indeed, almost a full three inches taller than Astronema herself, with short-cut red hair and light green eyes. She wore the same prison uniform that everyone else here did, a short gray tattered tunic, and was generally dirty. The guards around here didn't exactly believe in 'prisoner neatness'.

"Blanche, from Eltar, Princess Astronema," the functionary declared, shoving her down into the opposite chair and handing the leash to Ecliptor. "Do you wish me to remain?"

"No," Astronema shook her head. "I don't think I have anything to fear from her."

Blanche only looked coldly at those around her, as the functionary left, shutting the door behind him. "What do you want from me?" she grated as the door slammed. "You and your evil cohorts have done enough to me and my planet, can't you at least let me suffer my captivity in peace?"

The Princess of Evil smiled frostily. "If you co operate, your captivity will be at an end, my dear."

"I don't believe you," the young woman said flatly. Astronema smiled even wider.

"Perform one task for me. Just one, and I will see to it that you are released from this prison. With none of your belongings of course, but you will at least be free. And you want your freedom, don't you?"

Blanche snorted. "Not nearly as much as I want that staff of yours shoved up your---," her words literally choked off when Ecliptor tightened the leash. At a gesture from Astronema, he stopped.

"I see I'll have to be more persuasive," the princess's lips curved wickedly. "You have two friends here as well, do you not?" she closed her eyes for a moment, thinking. "Ah, yes, Phoenix and Midori. Interesting names."

The young woman's eyes narrowed. "It is the custom of our planet," she said somewhat harshly. "What is your concern with them or me?"

"Simple," Astronema glared straight into Blanche's eyes. "You will do exactly as you are told, or I will have them executed. As Princess of Evil, second in command only to Dark Spectre himself, I can do this at any time I wish, it's one of the perks of the job," she smiled. "And I will make certain they know you could have saved their lives. Just by doing what I want you to."

Astronema and Ecliptor were both satisfied to see Blanche's shoulders slumping. "Leave them alone," her voice held a flat, almost dead quality now. "I'll do what you want me to. What is it?"

"Everything will be explained once we're at the Dark Fortress," Astronema smiled, gesturing for the newest of her servants to rise. Blanche did so, half-glaring at Ecliptor as he still held the leash. Astronema opened the door and smiled wickedly at the functionary. "She's coming with us." No one dared gainsay her words.

As they left, Blanche found herself extremely grateful that she couldn't see Phoenix or Midori. If they knew. ..but it's for them. . . She closed her eyes for a moment. I'm sorry.

* * *

Cassie paced up and down in the clearing where she was waiting for the Phantom Ranger. She was so nervous she was about to hop out of her skin, and was starting at every shadow, torn between worry it was a Quantron or the person she wanted to see so very much. If he doesn't show up soon, I think I'm gonna have a heart attack! she thought, pausing to stare out over the lake for a few moments. The exact co ordinates he'd sent her were a well-concealed place that afforded an excellent view. It was perfect for quiet talks, especially in this situation.

"Cassie," the voice was low and husky, but it thrilled her to her soul. She turned around to see him fading into existence and visibility behind her. "Hello."

"Hi," she whispered, staring at him in mixed shock and joy. "I was staring to wonder. . ."

He walked a little nervously over to her. "I would never abandon you," he said quietly, gingerly reaching out for her, then pulling back. "I. .. we have much to discuss. I have information on Zordon's location, at least places where he isn't, to give to you."

She nodded. "That can come later," she whispered. Neither of them seemed able to speak any louder than that. "We have things to talk about first."

"But. . .," he broke off, obviously just as eager to have that discussion as she was. "Yes, we do."

For a few moments they remained like that, staring at each other, too scared to break the silence. Cassie took the plunge, figuratively speaking, gesturing to the picnic basket she'd brought with her. "I brought us something to eat. . .you do eat, don't you?"

"Yes," Phantom Ranger chuckled a tiny bit. "But not normally like this," he motioned briefly to his armor. Cassie nodded, wincing. She didn't expect him to demorph, he never had before. His privacy was something that he protected every bit as much as they did theirs.

Therefore she came fairly close to fainting when he glowed darkly for a moment, then his armor melted away, revealing a tall, well-built young human male. As attracted as she had been to him before, she felt almost as if her heart had stopped once she saw him in the 'natural' as it were. "I prefer to eat like this," he told her. Cassie trembled a little as they walked over to the picnic she'd set up. Only the Ruby, now sparkling from a golden chain around his neck, remained to show that he had ever been the Phantom Ranger.

In silence, she served and they started eating. Slowly, he began to speak, haltingly, as if unused to talking. "I come from a planet very far away. I don't think the name of it would mean anything to you. It was destroyed by natural disasters years ago, when I was only a child. I. ..was the only survivor. My parents had sent me to live with relatives on Eltar not long before. I grew up there, and was trained in every art of combat. When I was old enough, the queen of Eltar entrusted the Phantom Ruby to me, making me the Phantom Ranger, and swore me to total secrecy on my identity."

A faint smile came to his lips. "She said that only when I found my. true love. ..could I ever tell anyone who I really was."

The Pink Ranger's cheeks flushed a deep red at that, and only got redder as he reached out to take her hand. "My name, the name I was born with. Arion."

She could only stare at him, stare into those eyes that seemed to go on forever as she gazed into them. Softly, oh, so softly, she whispered, "I love you, Arion."

"I love you, too, Cassie."

Both of them could've sworn the Earth itself moved as their lips met in a first sweet kiss.

* * *

She's dead. How can she be dead? She was the most vibrant, alive person I knew. She was the only person I knew who could kick my rear on the practice field other than Andros. She must have made an excellent Ranger, I wish I could've seen her then.

Zhane leaned against a tree, wiping vaguely at the tears on his cheeks. He knew now why Andros hadn't told him what was going on right away, he'd wanted to spare his best friend the anguish. But Zhane had had to know, just like Andros had had to tell him. The only thing the Silver Ranger regretted was that they were too busy fighting off Astronema and looking for Zordon to stop by KO-35 and let him pay a visit to the grave.

Her last message kept playing over and over in his mind. He knew she would want him to be happy. She wouldn't want him to be alone forever, anymore than he would have wanted her to be alone if he was the one who had died. Indeed, he'd half-expected Andros to tell him that she had found someone else. He wasn't certain which, honestly, would have hurt more. What he'd been thinking might have happened, or what actually had.

I really should've figured something was up when Andros thought I liked Ashley as more than a friend, he thought, remembering. He knew Andros knew perfectly well how he'd felt about Zhandra, and that once two people were betrothed on KO-35, it was lasting until death or marriage. The signs of him hiding something were there. I just didn't notice them, he sighed. At least I don't have to worry about that now.

Sagging down to the ground, he half-heartedly jerked some grass from the sward beneath him, and stared at it, remembering so much about those happy days back home. Days when he, Andros, and Zhandra had roamed their world, merry and free. The two of them had, in a fit of generosity, taught her how to fight just as well as they could. Though only they were the Rangers of their world, Zhandra insisted that she would be a Ranger one day. That had always brought a slight look of pain to Andros' eyes, but he would never say why.

He let his thoughts go back to the first day he'd met Zhandra, so long ago. He had been young, only thirteen. She'd been twelve. The minute they'd looked at each other, they'd felt a solid and true connection, just like what he'd felt when he'd met Andros three years earlier. From the moment they had bumped into each other on the playground at their place of education, they were inseparable. When Andros had joined them later that same day, both of them had automatically included him in the game they were playing, and he had felt no less caring for Zhandra than Zhane did, except on a different level, that of friendship and caring. Zhane and Zhandra were the only two people the young man had let into his heart, and they had never betrayed that trust.

Wherever you are, Zhandra, he thought quietly as he leaned back against the tree, closing his eyes and seeing her beautiful face dancing behind his eyelids. I hope you're happy. And I'll do what you wanted. I'll try and find someone. Someone I can care about. Someone I can trust. Someone I can love. It won't be the same as it would be with you. But it will be someone. . .special.

A single, final tear slid down his cheek, as Zhane, the Silver Space Ranger, began to whisper the ancient words of his people, spoken only in utmost love and respect for the dead. He spoke the last sentence of it in English, though.

"I love you, Zhandra Wharinz. Rest in peace."

* * *

"Can you believe it?" T.J. asked, bouncing the basketball and shooting past Carlos to the basket, scoring another three points. "I've never seen Zhane or Andros this upset."

The Black Ranger nodded. "I can't imagine that I'd do if one of you guys died," he said, grabbing the ball and dodging past his friend. "I think I'd die if someone I loved as much as he seems to have loved that girl died."

"You know something?" T.J. made a play for the ball, and missed. "Me and you are the only two people on this team who either haven't had a girlfriend or don't have one? Ashley and Andros have each other, Cassie's still mooning over the Phantom Ranger, and Zhane's probably going to be mourning for a while. But you and I. ..we don't have anyone!"

Carlos grinned briefly as he made a basket of his own. "Don't bet on that, Teej!" he teased. "I could have a girlfriend none of you know about!"

"Oh, really?" the Blue Ranger grinned, then twisted around and snatched the ball away from his friend at the last moment. "Then how come you're always sitting around the MegaShip every night, by your lonesome? I don't see you going out with anyone, and Andros and Ashley have been dating almost constantly for a week now!"

The Black Ranger winced for a moment; he'd once thought he would go out with Ashley some day, but he'd never asked her out. Then had come the loss of the Turbo powers, and their subsequent move to Space, and she had fallen head over heels in love with Andros. He wished her the best of luck with him, and was intending fully on taking Andros aside one day and telling him he'd better take very good care of the beautiful Yellow Ranger. I don't think I need to. .but I think I will anyway.

"Okay, you got me," he admitted. "I guess you're right." he grabbed the ball himself and bounced back a few feet, looking for a clear shot away from T.J. "Hey, you think Zhane would like to go out on the town tonight? Just as friends?"

T.J. shrugged. "I don't know if tonight would be a good time. I mean, he did just find out that his girlfriend of who knows how long is dead. Maybe in a few days?"

"I dunno," Carlos did something that would technically be illegal in a real game, but it didn't matter here: he backflipped with the ball and hit another basket. "It might help him get over her. I don't know what the rules are for his people concerning love and grief, but . .."

"He's going to honor her request," came from the door. Both of them stopped to see Ashley and Andros standing in the doorway to the Simudeck where they had been playing. It was Andros who had spoken. "Not only that, but he will mourn for her three days and three nights, as is proper, and afterwards, he will be free to seek another love, if he wants to. And since her last request was that he do so, I believe he will."

The two Earth-born male Rangers glanced at each other. "So it wouldn't be a good idea to ask him to go out with us tonight?"

"Probably not," Andros allowed a small smile. He'd gotten over his mourning over his lost team long before he'd met this one, though he had never forgotten them, or forgiven himself for not leading them better. "But he won't associate with anyone for the time of mourning, unless it's an absolute emergency. In our case, I would say we don't call him unless it's a major attack."

Everyone nodded, then T.J. glanced around. "Anyone up for a game?" he bounced the basketball suggestively, and Andros grabbed it quickly.

"You and Carlos against me and Ashley?" he raised an eyebrow, and T.J. nodded. In a moment, the game was on.

* * *

The next three days passed with excruciating slowness for all concerned. Zhane accomplished his ritual mourning, chanting in the ancient tongue for hours at a time, thinking of all the good times he and Zhandra had been through together, with and without Andros. He was unable to sleep the first night, cried himself to sleep the second, and slept without dreams on the third. He didn't set foot on the MegaShip the entire time, though he knew they were monitoring him just in case Astronema tried something.

* * *

Unknown to the Rangers, however, Astronema had something entirely different and entirely more evil in mind. With her unwilling new servant at her side, the Princess of Evil set about repairing the damage nine months of imprisonment had done to Blanche. She fed her properly, exercised her, dressed her in the first decent clothes the captive had seen in almost a year, and repeatedly reminded Blanche that if she failed in any part of her mission, her friends would pay the price.

Ecliptor paid very little attention to someone he considered just slightly better than one of Astronema's monsters, and Elgar wasn't bright enough to even remember she was there half the time. Except for the constant threats, Astronema was relatively pleasant company, and just breathing the air of semi-freedom was a great relief to the young woman.

The mission she was to go on wasn't, though. Astronema showed her the mourning Zhane, and bluntly told her, "You are to get him to fall in love with you. That's it for now. But he must love you. Not the other way around. Once he loves you and trusts you, then I'll give you further orders."

"Why couldn't you tell me now?" Blanche asked, her eyes downcast. She'd learned rather quickly that it didn't pay to meet the evil princess's eyes.

Astronema resisted the urge to blast at her with the Wrath Staff. "First, I don't want to. Second, if by some chance the Rangers find out you're my pawn, I don't want them to be able to use you to gain any extra information. Just make him fall in love with you, that's all you need to know for now. Once that's happened, I'll inform you of the rest of your mission."

Blanche only nodded, she didn't exactly have too many choices right now. Quietly she prepared for what would be the most heartbreaking time of her life.

* * *

Cassie and the Phantom Ranger, or Arion, met every day after the amazing revelations in the park. They couldn't go on real dates, since Arion didn't want to reveal who he was to the other Rangers just yet, but they could and did talk a lot, covering every sort of topic from martial arts {which he began to teach her on a regular basis, developing her strength and stamina to be on a par with his own}, to what their childhoods had been like.

"Are you ever going to tell them who you are?" Cassie asked, leaning against him after a particularly hard session. Arion wasn't perfectly comfortable with touching just yet, but he was growing used to it. She knew she couldn't be within his arms for long, but it would do for now.

"Perhaps," he mused, enjoying the deep scent of her hair. "They deserve it, after all. But . . .I just don't feel comfortable with it just yet."

Cassie smiled faintly as she moved away from him, sensing the sudden tenseness in his arms. It seemed that even he couldn't quite control when he would no longer be able to stand the warmth of human contact. "You'll get over it."

"I know," Arion smiled at her. It was one of the first real smiles he'd ever had in his life. "With your help, I know I will."

* * *

It was noon, four days after Andros had told Zhane about Zhandra. Andros, Carlos, T.J., Ashley, and Cassie were all in the main room of the MegaShip, having lunch. Andros and Ashley had plans to go to a movie that afternoon, Carlos and T.J. were going down to the Surf Spot to shoot some pool in the 'real world', and Cassie's mind was enveloped with thoughts of the Phantom Ranger.

They all looked up when Zhane walked in and sat down in his usual place. Andros could tell that Zhane's mental anguish still existed, as did his pain, but also that the traditional mourning had accomplished it's task: Zhane was feeling a lot better than he had before. "Lunch?" he asked calmly, raising an eyebrow.

"Yeah," the Silver Ranger nodded. "I haven't eaten in three days," part of the ritual was to fast, to cleanse the body of all food as the heart and soul were cleansed of pain. He almost laughed when he saw Cassie and Ashley both jumping up to get him something to eat. Once the edge was off his hunger, he took a look around. "So, how has everyone been? Astronema up to anything?"

Carlos shook his head. "It's been quiet for days. I'm staring to get worried, actually. She's never this quiet for long."

"Hmmmm," Zhane nodded as he leaned back in his chair and looked around. Andros and Ashley were sitting very close together, while Cassie had a faraway look in her eyes. Sure signs of romantic involvement, he smiled to himself, then remembered something he'd seen at the Surf Spot the other day, just before he'd found out about Zhandra. "Hey, guys, there's going to be a. . .," he fumbled for the word for a moment. "A dance at the Surf Spot tomorrow night."

Everyone sat up, almost as if a small fire had been lit under each of them. Cassie's eyes quite literally glowed at the thought. If I can talk Arion into it. ..he can reveal himself to the Rangers then, and we could go together! Ohhhh!

"That sounds like fun!" Ashley gushed, turning quickly to Andros. "Let's go!" something about the way she was saying that was almost setting alarm bells off in the Red Ranger. "It'll probably be at night anyway, Astronema never attacks at night, we can take the time!"

Andros was about ready to refuse, citing the fact they needed their rest just in case she attacked the next day, when every other member of the team started reciting reasons why they should go. "It'll be fun!"

"You never know who you can meet!"

"It's been so long since we all went anywhere as a group!"

"It'll be romantic!" that, of course, came from Ashley. Andros could only hold up for so long before he finally caved in, and agreed that yes, the Power Rangers in Space, would be attending the dance at the Surf Spot the next night.

As soon as the words fell from his lips, different thoughts skyrocketed through everyone's mind.

Who knows, maybe I can find someone interesting there. It's got to be a sign, it happening so soon after I get out of my mourning time, the Silver Ranger mused.

I think I'll wear my new yellow dress, the one with the blue trim, the Yellow Ranger decided.

A dance. ..I can't dance. .. why did I want to go when I'm going to trip all over myself? the Black Ranger thought.

I wonder if there are going to be any cute girls there? browsed through the mind of the Blue Ranger.

Arion and I can have such a good time! I've even got a new dress I can wear, from that time Ashley and I went shopping together! the Pink Ranger mentally gushed.

I'm going to regret this. I know I am. that, of course, was from Andros.

* * *

Arion was in his ship, scanning for Zordon's life signs when the call came. Ever since he had revealed himself to Cassie, the two of them had discovered they were able to sense when the other wanted to see them. She still hadn't told the Rangers she was seeing him on a regular basis, and he respected the fact she respected his wishes. That was just one of the many things he loved about her.

Yes, he loved her. He'd never thought he would find that mysterious 'true love' that the Queen of Eltar had hinted existed, but when he had. ..he'd also never expected her to be human, or another Power Ranger.

He nodded briefly, knowing she would sense his assent. The strange bond they had could neither be described as empathic or telepathic, it was just a sense of knowing when one wanted to see the other. He had to admit to himself as he teleported down to their usual meeting area, that he wanted her and loved her like no one else in the entire universe.

"Arion!" she almost seemed to dance as he shimmered into existence next to hear. "I've got the most Iexciting news!" she declared. He listened in curiosity and growing confusion as she told him of what sounded like some strange human ritual. "So can we go to the dance. . .together? Would you show yourself. the Rangers?"

He frowned briefly; he'd never said that he wouldn't do it, but he also had never said he would. The thought of showing himself to them, to revealing his secret, that he had kept so long, to anyone except Cassie, was almost frightening to him. But he could see more than just love in her eyes, he could see the irresistible need for her to prove, if not to the other Rangers, but to herself, that he did love her and they really could be together, at least one day, if not now.

"Cassie," he said quietly, taking her hand in his. "I hadn't really ever intended to reveal myself to your fellow Rangers, at least not until we found Zordon. And I have faith we will do that one day."

He could see the light fading in her eyes, as she turned a little away from him. He winced to even tease her in this light fashion. "But for you, for the love we share, I will do this."

Cassie whirled around, her long black hair flying almost wide enough to hit him in the face. "Oh, Arion, thank you! Thank you so much!"

He smiled. It took so little to please her, how could he not do those few things? He leaned over to kiss her lightly on the lips, enjoying the contact more than he had ever enjoyed anything in his life. "Thank you, Cassie," he whispered, slowly enfolding her in his arms. "Thank you so much."

"Thank me?" she looked up at him, confused. Even in her confusion she was beautiful, he thought, kissing her again.

"Yes," he smiled. "For coming into my life and making it complete."

A pink tinge touched her cheeks. "Thank you, too, Arion. For making me whole."

* * *

"A dance," Astronema had been quite surprised to see that Phantom Ranger had a mortal identity, but it didn't matter that much at the moment, not with the scheme she had in mind. She made a mental note of it, however, to use at a later date. That could come in handy. What was more of interest to her was what he and Cassie had been talking about. "Perfect. Blanche!"

She was quite glad to see that her unwilling servant responded promptly, stepping out of the tiny room she'd been given and bowing low to her. Astronema demanded such respect from those who obeyed her. "Yes, princess?" she knew Blanche's true feelings towards her, but as long as the outward forms were observed, she didn't much care.

"There's going to be a dance at that place where the humans gather, the Surf Spot," Astronema told her. "That will be the perfect place for you to 'accidentally' bump into the Rangers and begin your mission with the Silver Ranger. Remember, if you fail in any way. .."

"I understand," Blanche concealed the hate she felt for this woman well. Since agreeing to Astronema's evil purpose, she had found herself quite glad that she didn't have a mirror in her chamber. She didn't think she could look herself in the face anymore.

* * *

With everyone on the ship preparing for the dance in one way or another, it was somewhat of a surprise when Cassie had DECA call them all onto the bridge. The surprise grew even greater when they saw the Phantom Ranger standing next to her as they entered.

"Phantom?" Carlos looked concerned. "Is something wrong?" even as he spoke, however, he realized that sounded a trifle odd; not only had it been months since they'd even seen the Phantom Ranger, they had never seen him on the MegaShip. Something had to be majorly wrong for this to happen!

Zhane looked a little confused; he'd heard of the Phantom Ranger, the mysterious warrior was quite famous, and the Rangers had told him of how he'd given them the Delta MegaShip and was helping them search for Zordon in his own solitary fashion. But this was the first time he'd ever seen him, and the Silver Ranger was somewhat curious about why Phantom and Cassie were so. .. close to each other.

"No," Phantom shook his head, then turned it to Cassie. "Would you?"

She nodded a little, stepping just a bit ahead of him. "A few days ago, I got in touch with Phantom Ranger," she said. "I'll say right now, I love him. I wanted to find out if he felt the same way about me, since most of you know we've had this. ..connection or whatever, ever since we first met back on Earth when the four of us," she indicated T.J., Carlos, and Ashley, "were Turbo Rangers. I spoke with him, and we decided to meet down on Earth, to talk."

"It didn't take me long to realize that I do love Cassie," Phantom spoke up then. "And I did something I had thought I would never do to anyone as long as I lived, though I had been told that I could. It is something I now do for you."

The five Rangers were startled beyond the meaning of the word when Phantom reached up and touched the Ruby on his chest. The air seemed to flicker for a moment, then where he had stood, there was a young man, just as tall as the Phantom Ranger had been, with short-cut dark hair, sad blue-gray eyes, dressed in what appeared to be normal Earth clothing. Around his neck hung the Ruby, glittering faintly, and as they took all of that in, Cassie stepped closer to the Phantom, and put an arm around him. He seemed almost surprised, yet expectant of it at the same time, and put his own around her.

"My name," he said quietly. "is Arion."

Every last Ranger looked as if someone had just smacked them in the back of the head with an extremely large board. Ashley choked out, "You two. . are. ...." she didn't seem to be able to finish the sentence.

Cassie smiled. "We are in love," she stated quietly. Coming from your basic sixteen year old, that might have seemed silly, but whenever she looked at the Phantom Ranger/Arion, the others could see the love that not only glowed in her, but in him when he looked back. Those who had seen Phantom when he had first arrived on Earth remembered how Cassie had quite literally lit up whenever he came to help them, and how he had, honestly, always sort of protective and caring towards her. Arion didn't look to be much older than Cassie himself, but looks could and probably were deceptive.

"And we are going to this. . .dance. . .tonight. Together," Arion continued, smiling faintly when Cassie turned and squealed at him; he'd never actually said they were going, just told her that he would reveal his identity to the Ranger. She'd hoped that meant they would go, but with his near-paranoid concealment, she hadn't been certain.

Andros could almost feel sorry for the Phantom, despite being as surprised and startled as the rest of them were that the mysterious Ranger had finally revealed himself. He'd always believed that Phantom had survived his injuries that he had acquired during their last meeting, but it was good to have the proof of that now. Phantom/Arion could and would be a true friend, he sensed. I don't think this is going to change too much, though, he thought. Once this dance is over, he will continue the search, as will we. But at least they're together, and they know their hearts. I know mine and Ashley's. For a moment, he looked out the window, feeling an unutterable loneliness. Yes, he loved Ashley, and he knew she loved him. But he wondered briefly, would he ever be able to look into the face of his sister Karone and tell her I'm getting married to Ashley Hammond, would you care to attend?

The other Rangers were talking with Cassie and Arion, clarifying and getting updated on just what the two of them had been doing, and filling Cassie in on the few things she'd missed the last couple of days, being snuggled up with her new boyfriend. Ashley turned in time, however, to see Andros looking at the locket around his neck, and to see a single glistening tear run down one cheek.

* * *

The Surf Spot was a wild display of lights, music, and people all over the place. It hadn't originally been set up for this sort of thing, but it had adapted marvelously, thanks to the suggestions of it's newest co-proprietor. Ernie insisted to Adelle that the kids would love this, and he seemed to be right, as more and more of them poured in, all dressed to the nines and all looking like they were already having a great time.

Ashley and Andros were the first of the Rangers to enter the building, with the Yellow Ranger in the dress she'd been thinking about, and Andros in a pair of gray slacks with a neat red shirt. It was close enough to the shipboard uniform so he would be a bit more at ease than he would have been in a tuxedo or anything similar.

Cassie and Arion came in next, with Cassie in a flowing pink gown and her hair piled magnificently on top of her head, and Arion in a coal black suit that seemed alien without being outrageous. Arion looked a little nervous, but with Cassie next to him, things seemed as if they were going to be all right, at least for him.

"Are you certain it's okay to come to these things without an escort?" Zhane muttered as he, T.J., and Carlos entered, their outfits almost identical to Andros, except with their shirts in the appropriate color-coding.

T.J. nodded. "In fact, it can be a good place to meet girls!" he grinned a little, and was glad when Zhane only smiled. He'd hoped this would help the Silver Ranger heal even more from what he'd learned the other day. The little group headed over to a table and watched as people began to mingle, wandering back and forth, some swaying a little to the music that was playing, others tasting the refreshments.

"Would you care to dance?" Carlos was a bit startled when he looked up at the sound of the voice and saw a tall, leggy blonde looking at him, smiling. A half-strangled nod was all he managed as she took his hand and whirled him out onto the dance floor. The others grinned as they saw the goofy smile on his face. It was obvious he was going to be having a very good time, as was T.J., who got grabbed by another young lady only a few minutes later. Seeing their friends on the dance floor urged Ashley and Cassie to almost drag their dates out there, leaving Zhane sitting by himself at the table.

Zhandra and I came to things like this, he remembered, a faint smile on his face at the memory. They had had so much fun. . .he was glad to realize the memory caused only a little pain.

"Excuse me?" he was visibly startled out of his thoughts, almost falling out of his chair at the sound of the voice. "Oh, I'm sorry!" it was a feminine voice, quiet and firm, with a faint hint of an accent that sounded almost familiar, but not quite.

Zhane looked up to see a woman there, about his own age of seventeen, in Earth years, with neatly combed red hair and green eyes that almost glowed with mystery. She was dressed simply, in a pale green skirt and white blouse, and no jewelry. Her face was sweet, not particularly beautiful, but possessed of some attractiveness, at least. Zhane did everything he could not to gulp as he met her eyes. "Um. . .it's all right," he half-whispered. "Can I help you?"

"Hello," she smiled. "I was wondering if you wanted to dance?"

The Silver Ranger blinked a little; T.J. and Carlos had told him that women often asked solitary guys to dance at these things, and he'd seen it himself at those celebrations on KO-35, but he'd never thought it would happen to him! "Umm. . .sure," he replied. "I'm Zhane."

"Blanche," she introduced herself with a slight bow. "Nice to meet you, Zhane," she said as they headed out to the dancefloor. Zhane's heart sank just the tiniest bit when all of a sudden, a slow, romantic song began playing, in sharp contrast to the hard rock that had been sounding only moments before. He'd been ready to use some of the moves his fellow Rangers had shown him for that, but this. ..he wasn't so sure.

"Um, I don't know how to slow-dance," he muttered, finding himself hoping that she wouldn't abandon him on the dancefloor and make him look like a fool. There was a strange, exotic scent about her that made him wish even harder that he didn't.

She smiled. "It's all right," she told him. "You don't really have to do anything, just kind of move a little to the music. Let me show you."

It didn't take long for the other Rangers to notice that Zhane wasn't sitting at their table anymore. "Look," Cassie nudged Arion just a bit and lifted one eyebrow in the direction of where she'd spied their friend. "I don't think he's going to be lonely for much longer."

Arion smiled faintly as he looked over unobtrusively. "That is good," he murmured, leaning his head a little on Cassie's shoulder as they too slow-danced. "I know how he feels. I was lonely, until I met you."

"So was I," Cassie whispered, squeezing his hand. "But I'm not anymore."

It didn't look like any of the Rangers were going to be lonely anymore.

* * *

"So, did everyone have a good time last night?" Ashley couldn't keep the slightly teasing tone from her voice as she looked at the three 'unattached' Rangers. T.J., Carlos, and Zhane all looked as innocent as they could. It was just the Space Rangers at the table today, Arion had bid Cassie a gentle farewell and promised he would return soon, but he had to keep the search for Zordon going. She knew he would keep his word, and knew she would treasure that night they had spent in dancing and just being together. Even if she never saw him again, it would shine in the back of her mind like a warm and glowing treasure.

Andros nodded as he wolfed down some of what masqueraded as food from the Synthetron. "It was quite enjoyable," he said, not quite noticing she wasn't looking at him directly. "I'm glad we went," he was honest enough to admit that to her.

"It was fun," Carlos nodded. He and the girl he'd danced with, Denise, had had a great time, but she'd told him rather early on she was just trying to make her boyfriend jealous, since he had shown up at the dance with her best friend. He'd understood, and done his best to show her a good time without promising anything that either of them couldn't fulfill. Carlos had always been honest and open with his few girlfriends, most of which had been before he'd become a Ranger, and with that secret on him now, he didn't think he'd ever be able to date someone who either wasn't a Ranger or who knew and understood about them. He also knew he didn't have a lot of long-term relationships ahead of him like that.

T.J. yawned a little, he and the girl that he had danced with, Karen, had went out for a long walk after the dance, and were possibly going to see each other again, nothing definite had been said, but he had hinted to her that he couldn't do very much. The Blue Ranger never knew when he might have to blast off to space and fight off the latest threat to the universe at large. "Had a blast," he murmured. "A total blast."

Everyone turned to look at Zhane, who was sort of dawdling over his food in a way he never had before. There was a distant look in his eyes, and just the faintest smudge of pale rose lipstick on one cheek. Andros, who knew the Silver Ranger best of all, had seen him looking like this only once before: just after his first date with Zhandra. His lips twitched just the tiniest bit.

"What's her name, Zhane?" he asked quietly, leaning so that if his friend wanted to, he could just whisper it. Zhane was funny about relationships, he'd always been honest and open when he had been dating Zhandra, but now that she was gone, Andros wasn't quite sure what he would be like.

The Silver Ranger smiled just a little, looking at them. "Blanche Henderson. She's seventeen, and I think I like her," he wasn't certain if he was in love, he certainly doubted it after only a few hours of dancing and a little conversation, but he knew he was at least interested. He'd probably get a new friend out of it, if nothing else.

"What's she like?" T.J. asked. He'd seen Zhane dancing with her, but hadn't been able to talk with them. The strange girl had almost seemed to take care to keep the Silver Ranger near her and away from all the others, though he knew that had to be erroneous.

Zhane smiled. "She's really nice. We talked a little, nothing serious, and danced, of course."

Ashley couldn't keep the half-smirk off her face. "Are you going to see her again?" she asked, and Cassie emerged from her near-trance of memories of the night before to echo the question.

"I don't know," Zhane chuckled at the eagerness in their voices. He knew perfectly well they would like him to date, if not find a true love somewhere, both for his own mental health and so he wouldn't be lonely. "I think I'd like to though."

Carlos shrugged. "Why don't you go try and find her, then? If you like her, give it a shot. You never know."

"I don't know," the young man thought over the night of dancing. It had seemed so wonderful, almost like a dream, but now it was cold morning, and reality was rather harshly intruding onto his thoughts. He could still almost smell the perfume she'd been wearing, and he hadn't thought she'd gotten quite that close to him, though she had given him a rather chaste kiss on the cheek. He stood up, pushing his food away quickly. "I think I'm going to go for a walk," he said finally. "I need to think."

After his signature teleport stream of pristine silver vanished from the room, his fellow Rangers all looked at each other. They all could tell the signs, because at one time or another, they'd all been through the signs. Ashley and Cassie spoke it together.


* * *

Morning came at the Dark Fortress just like it did anywhere else, but it was a dark day here. Every day was at this bastion of evil. While Elgar, Astronema, and Ecliptor roused to begin another twenty-four hours of evil, Blanche was huddled up on her bed, staring into the vastness of space she could see from her window, and wishing that the night before hadn't happened.

Everything had went just according to Astronema's plan. She'd struck perfectly, timing her approach of the Silver Ranger to just when all the others were gone. She hadn't recognized the person the Pink Ranger was with at first, but remembering both what she'd overheard Astronema speaking aloud to herself, and memories of Eltar, had told her this was Arion, the Phantom Ranger. She had done what she could to avoid him after she'd recognized him. The last thing she needed was for him to recognize her. That could ruin everything.

Zhane had been totally bowled over by her. She knew she wasn't outstandingly beautiful by Earth standards, or Eltarian, but she had never minded that. All she'd been really hoping for before leaving on her mission was that they would talk. Astronema wanted more than that, and wasn't going to risk her messing up the mission. The Princess of Evil had given her a perfume, a very rare and exotic one, the scent of which would cause someone to be very attracted to whoever was wearing it.

And that's why he's probably thinking I'm one of the greatest things since sliced bread, she thought bitterly to herself. She hadn't slept all that night, once returning to the Fortress. She hadn't wanted to, and she'd had the strangest feeling if she did, she'd be haunted by even more nightmares than she'd had over the past nine months. And I'd deserve them all.

"Blanche!" Astronema's voice cracked like a whip, and the young woman was on her feet and heading for the main chamber as fast as she could. It galled her very heart to have to obey, but there was no choice for her now. When she entered, she bowed almost automatically. "You have done well so far, my dear," the evil woman purred. "Now, my scanners have detected the Silver Ranger on Earth right now, in the park. Go down there and 'accidentally' bump into him. I don't much care what you do, just get him to trust and love you. That's all I want and need for now. As I said, I'll give you further orders once he cares about you."

The young Eltarian nodded again, her fists clenching just the smallest bit. I have to manipulate a person's mind and heart and emotions. I'm doing no better by him than she's doing to me. She's forcing me to be evil by threatening my best friends. I'm forcing Zhane to love me by twisting his hormones around with this perfume.

"Now, go," Astronema gestured towards the door to the Fortress. "Oh, and Blanche?" her forced-servant paused for a moment, looking back as she had already started to go out. "Don't forget to put your perfume on."

* * *

Zhane had always enjoyed parks, forests, wild areas of nature. He had taken long walks on KO-35, by himself, with Andros, with Zhandra, and with both of them, as well as with his parents. Now as he walked in Angel Grove Park, he'd almost have expected to be reminded of the times he'd done so with all of them.

On the contrary, all he could think of was Blanche. Her face, her eyes, her hair, her clothes, every thing about her floated in his mind and danced across his heart. He wondered where she lived, what she was doing, if he would ever see her again. He'd been warned sometimes these 'dance romances' didn't last, especially since he wouldn't be able to tell her anything about his secret. Something seemed to whisper in his mind, however, that he would be able to tell her everything. Blanche would not only keep his secrets, but she would understand them, and the look in her eyes promised mystery and secrets of her own in trade.

"Blanche Henderson," he murmured the two words under his breath, and smiled at how wonderful they tasted on his tongue. Almost as good as Zhandra had. He couldn't help himself, he did a flip and a jump, suddenly full of energy and life. He hadn't felt this good since he'd restored his full powers!

"You called?" he almost fainted when he came back to his feet and saw Blanche standing a few feet away, a smile on her lips and in her eyes. "Hello, Zhane."

He stammered out a hello, and she smiled as he came over to her. "I was wondering if I'd see you again," he managed to get the entire sentence out without a stutter, somewhat proud of himself. He hadn't ever felt like this over a girl!

"Why wouldn't you?" she smiled. "I had a really great time last night, Zhane, and I was hoping we could. .. maybe go somewhere together?"

She was very close to him right now, not quite as close as she'd been when they were dancing the night before, but still closer than most people got the second time they were talking to each other. "Sure," he murmured, inhaling and smelling the same fragrance as he had the night before. "Where would you like to go?"

"How about for a walk?" she smiled. "I'd like to get to know you better, Zhane, let me forthright in that. I don't know many people here in Angel Grove, and you're by far the nicest person I've ever met here. I wasn't expecting to see anyone half as attractive as you at the dance last night."

The Silver Ranger nodded. "I wasn't either," he replied honestly. "My friends were hoping I would, though."

"Oh?" she raised an eyebrow as they started down a path together. "Obviously you're not involved with anyone, since you were alone last night. Or did you get abandoned?"

She winced, inside and outside, at the sudden pain that flickered across his face. She was about to apologize, when he spoke. "I found out a few days ago that my fianc‚e had died. I'd been. . .in a coma for about two years, and my best friend told me about it. It hurts, but . . .there's just something about it having happened while I was out of circulation that makes it kind of blunter. It's . . .hard to explain," he said. "I've mourned for her, and she did leave me a message to find someone else. . .but. . ."

"But you're still a little afraid of doing it," she whispered softly. "You're scared if you do, the person you find will be a replacement. You're not sure if you trust yourself or her memory enough to do proper justice to a new relationship."

He was almost surprised, yet somehow not, when she pegged his feelings so precisely. "Have you. .ever lost anyone?" he asked, wondering if she spoke from experience or not.

Myself, she thought at once. Aloud, she said, "My twin brother. He died in an explosion when we were fourteen, about three years ago," her voice held a slightly flat quality. She would never forget how he'd thrown himself literally on the bomb, sacrificing his life to save countless thousands of others. He was considered a hero of Eltar. "He was my best friend, and it took me another year and a half before I'd ever even talk to someone else like I'd talked to him."

"What happened so you did?" he wondered. He couldn't imagine her as being silent and taciturn, like Andros was. She just seemed too open to him.

Her lips quirked suddenly. "Two very good friends of mine got me incredibly drunk," she said dryly, remembering that night. Phoenix and Midori had snitched the most potent Triforian brandy they could get their hands on, and the three of them had drunk until the middle of the night. They'd had the most raging of headaches the next morning, and were all glad they weren't needed for anything that day.

And from that moment on, the walls Blanche had raised around her heart had been gone. It was very hard to conceal things from people who had seen you holding heart to heart conversations with the curtains, and who you had held onto while they regurgitated everything but their shoes. Or who had held you while you did the same.

She looked up from her memories as a warm hand folded itself around hers. Zhane had taken her hand. Blanche wasn't quite certain if she should accept it as Astronema's servant or as her own person. With a sinking heart, she realized she wasn't her own person anymore.

Zhane smiled as her fingers wrapped around his, and hand in hand, they walked down the path.

* * *

"Do you really believe we can trust her, my princess?" Ecliptor asked, gazing with Astronema at the viewscreen. Almost a week had passed since the dance, and the two beings of evil had watched with approval as Zhane and Blanche had met every day. As per Astronema's further orders, the forced-servant had avoided the other Rangers as much as she could, not wanting to risk the effects the perfume might have on the other Rangers. As much fun as it would be to see them all trailing after Blanche, it would also be risking too much at the moment. There would be time later for more inventive uses of her Eltarian girl.

Astronema waited a few moments before answering. "Trust her, no. I don't trust anyone. But she'll keep doing as I command. She knows she doesn't have a choice. If she disobeys. ..her friends will pay the price."

Her guardian nodded. "It's possible she'll take the risk, though," he reminded her. "If she thinks of appealing to the Rangers for aid, they could try and break the other two out before you could get to them."

The princess sat up suddenly. "Quite so," she nodded. "We must take pains against that, to be certain she can't. Send word to the prison planet. Her friends are to be removed at once, and. ..," she paused, trying to think of a suitable place for them. Suddenly her eyes gleamed with evil. "Bring them here. To the Dark Fortress. Have them put in the lower cells, and don't give any hints that they're here at all. If she starts getting out of control, I'll let her know how close they are to being . . .disposed of."

Ecliptor nodded and bowed, leaving at once on his mission. Astronema kept watching the scene below, an approving smile on her lips. Blanche and Zhane were at the movies this time, enjoying just being together. From the slightly goofy grin on his face, the evil woman could tell that the love-inducing perfume was in full strength.

If only it caused INSTANT and total love. But that's too easily detectable, and the Rangers could figure a way to neutralize it. Slow and steady wins it.

With a flick of a wrist, she turned the volume up so she could hear what was going on. From the sudden startlement in Blanche's eyes, and the greeting in Zhane's, something very unusual had just happened. Her eyes narrowed as she saw the other Rangers joining them. She had best handle this perfectly. If she flaws the plan. ..

The princess silenced her thoughts, and watched sternly, already thinking of revenge to take and plans to make in the event of Blanche's defection.

* * *

"Hi, guys!" Zhane waved as Andros, T.J., Cassie, Ashley, and Carlos sat down in the near-by empty seats. "I wasn't expecting you here!"

Ashley smiled as she squeezed Andros' hand softly, the two had entered hand in hand. "This movie's so romantic, I just had to come see it!"

The Pink Ranger chuckled, she wished Arion could've come with them, but he had pleaded business in another part of the galaxy, and he was going to be showing up at the picnic they had planned for after the movie. Besides, I know he doesn't like going out very much in public. Even in human form. He's just so. . .shy. That's one of the things I love about him.

"Free popcorn," T.J. shrugged, settling down and sharing his extra large box with Carlos, who just waved.

"Blanche," Zhane turned to his date, who looked just a trifle startled. "These are my friends. Andros, Cassie, Ashley, Carlos, and the one over there stuffing his face is T.J."

She nodded a bit shyly. I hope enough of the perfume has worn off so they can't be affected by it, she thought. "Blanche Henderson," she gave the false human surname she'd been using. "Nice to meet you all at last. Zhane's told me so much about you."

"He's told us a lot about you, too," Carlos grinned. "Don't worry, it was all good."

Andros smiled over at Blanche; she had obviously been very good for Zhane, since he hadn't seemed the slightest bit depressed since they had started dating this last week. "We're having a picnic after the show," he said quietly. "Cassie's boyfriend's going to be joining us there, would you two like to come?"

Blanche almost panicked; it was bad enough being in the theater with them right now, but to spend even more time with the Rangers? She couldn't! Especially since Cassie's boyfriend was the Phantom Ranger. Her heart sank to her knees when she heard Zhane happily agreeing to go. I'm choiceless, she thought sadly. That's the way it's always been since my capture. Very well. I'll just have to hope he doesn't recognize me.

"All right," she nodded, and smiled when he looked at her. "It sounds like a lot of fun!"

"Shhh, the movie's starting," Ashley waved them all to silence suddenly as the theater darkened, and leaned a little closer to Andros. Blanche turned her eyes to the moviescreen, and deliberately lost herself in the story for an hour and a half, wishing with all her soul that she'd died in the attack on her world.

* * *

It was a perfect day for a picnic in Angel Grove Park as well. That perhaps made it even worse, for Blanche was cursing herself for not suggesting it to Zhane, as a way to get him even tighter into her clutches. Sunlight lay like golden lava upon the grass, and the sky was a pure silken blue, with only a few faint fluffy clouds in the sky.

She watched, biting her lip unobtrusively, as Cassie and Ashley set things up, spreading the blanket and setting out the food. Zhane and Andros were sparring with each other about ten feet away, while T.J. and Carlos were doing the same thing in another direction. Arion hadn't shown up yet, but from the gentle humming Cassie was doing under her breath, he would show up at any minute.

Quietly she leaned against a tree, watching. She had offered to help, but the two female Rangers had everything under control. From their conversation, she gathered quickly that Ashley liked to design clothes, Cassie enjoyed music, but both liked to cook, and had put their heads together for a near-feast. From the occasional looks the two of them gave her and Zhane, Blanche was getting the strong whiff of 'setup' in this picnic. Their curiosity about me must be eating them alive, she thought, faintly smiling. I brought it on myself, sort of. Oh, well. Such is life.

"Everyone!" Cassie didn't shout, but she did raise her voice just enough to get their attention. "Food's on!" she moved adroitly out of the way to avoid being knocked over by T.J. as he headed for the blanket. Blanche moved away from the tree and sat down next to Zhane, filling her plate almost blindly.

Conversation about a little bit of everything filled the air, with Cassie being the only one who didn't say anything at all. She was still waiting for Arion to show up, and it was obvious she was starting to get disappointed.

"He'll show," Blanche said quietly, feeling the sudden urge to do something nice for a change. "Just be patient. Probably got held up in traffic or something."

The Pink Ranger smiled just a little, and nodded, not wanting to say anything for fear of her voice shaking, obviously. She leaned back a little herself, deep in thought.

"So, how long have you lived in Angel Grove?" Carlos asked, his eyes on Blanche. She raised one eyebrow at the question, then realized they were going to want to know things like that about their friend's. ..she hesitated to use the word girlfriend, even in her mind, but couldn't think of any other way to describe herself at the moment.

"Not long," she said, determined to lie only if she had to. "It's been fairly interesting so far. Going to the dance at the Surf Spot was a spur of the moment decision, but I'm glad I did."

Zhane smiled. "So am I," he told her. She automatically leaned a little closer to him, letting the breeze waft the perfume scent to his nostrils a bit more. "Very glad."

For one moment, the two of them looked at each other, eye to eye, heart reaching out to heart. Zhane had never been happier in his life. Blanche had never been sadder, though a smile graced her lips. They almost moved towards each other, while the others felt as if they'd been frozen in place, watching a tableau.

That frozen moment shattered when space rippled, and out of the ripple there appeared a round dozen Quantrons, that rushed towards them, weapons ready and prepared for battle.

"Blanche!" Zhane moved away quickly, covering her with his body in case they tried to go for her, the non-Ranger and most vulnerable member of the team. "Get out of here, we can handle these things!"

She might have said something, if she hadn't seen Astronema peering at her suddenly from behind a bush-covered tree not far away, and beckoning to her. "Right!" she snapped, dodging out of their sight as fast as she could and obeying her unwilling mistress's call. What a way to ruin a perfectly good date.

* * *

Astronema half-growled when Blanche got there, "What do you think you're doing, girl?" she growled. "I gave you specific orders not to go near those Rangers!"

"I couldn't help it!" Blanche told her. "There was no way I could get out of it without getting Zhane upset and worried! I can't avoid people forever, especially not people he's as tight with as he's with the Rangers. They're a team, a family, and he wants them to approve of the person he's with, which means they're going to have to meet me, whether you like it or not!"

She regretted her words a moment later, when Astronema backhanded her harshly. "You will obey your orders," she was told coldly. "And now I've got new ones for you. I think Zhane's hooked well enough. Now it's time to land him."

Blanche didn't dare look up. "W. .what do you mean?"

"On your next outing with him," Astronema's voice was purest ice and chill. "I want you to kill him. Badly. Painfully. And do more than kill him. Break his heart when you do it. I want him destroyed, heart, soul, mind, body. Make him regret he was ever born when you do it. I don't care how other than that."

"No," she whispered softly, unable to believe what she'd just heard. She wouldn't do that. She couldn't do that. How could Astronema ask it of her?

The evil one glared straight at her, eyes glowing and the Wrath Staff in her hand sparking just the littlest bit. "Let me show you something," she hissed, pointing the staff at the air suddenly. It flickered for a moment, then the air seemed almost to roll back, revealing two young women of Blanche's age, chained to opposite walls. "Remember them? If you. .."

Blanche literally paled, and Astronema didn't have to finish the sentence. She held out her hand, causing a black, twisted dagger to appear in it. "Use this to draw out the last bit of his heart's blood," she said coolly, nodding with approval as Blanche took it quietly. "Once it is done, return to the Dark Fortress. And Blanche. ..," she smiled as her servant looked up. "Do it soon."

She faded away, and Blanche leaned against a tree, sliding the dagger almost automatically into a hidden pocket on her jeans. Tears sparked in her eyes and slid down her cheeks at the thought of what she had to do. When did friendship become so strong? she wondered. What happens when you get to the point you'd literally do anything for your friends, even kill someone you . .might love?

"I thought I recognized your name," a voice spoke. She leaped to her feet and went paler than a ghost at the sight of the armored Phantom Ranger appearing before her. "You are Blanche from Eltar, are you not?"

She sighed, leaning back. She'd known she couldn't keep the secret forever. "Yes, I am. Arion."

"What are you doing here?" he asked, not powering down. He didn't know if she could be trusted anymore. "And why were you talking with Astronema?"

"I work for her," the words tasted extremely bitter on her tongue. "Not by choice. She's holding Midori and Phoenix hostage to my service. And I'm going to have to kill Zhane to keep them alive."

Phantom Ranger seemed to frown. "Do you truly think she'll keep her word?"

"Not by a long shot," was her reply. "But I have no choice in this. I have a half a hope that she just possibly might if I obey. I know for a fact if I don't, she's going to take the greatest of pleasure in destroying them just the way I'm supposed to destroy Zhane," she looked at him, pleading in her eyes. "Arion, when we were on Eltar, we were friends. I know that can't be now, whether I like it or not, I'm on the other side now. But for the sake of what we had, please, don't tell the Rangers about me."

He said nothing for a few moments. The sounds of combat had ended by now. He flickered into his unmorphed form. "Let's go to the others," he said quietly. "I won't say anything. But, Blanche. . .for the sake of what we had as well. ..remember who you are."

"Were," she sighed. "Were."

"No," he smiled, laying a hand on her shoulder. "What you are and always will be."

* * *

Blanche was under orders, but she wasn't going to make it easy to carry those out. She excused herself from the picnic, pleading a headache from the sun, and ran as quickly as she could without attracting attention. She didn't dare return to the Dark Fortress just yet, not without having killed Zhane. But she couldn't do that either. Somewhat distastefully, she took up a temporary residence in an abandoned home, doing all she could to avoid Zhane and the Rangers.

Arion kept his semi-promise to her, not revealing what he knew of her to the others, and indeed, Cassie was just so glad to see he had shown up after all, she didn't question anything else.

Zhane didn't plunge into depression, but after a few days without seeing Blanche, he was starting to get seriously concerned that something had happened to her. During monster attacks, he kept looking for any sign of her. He had DECA scan for her almost constantly, to no avail. It was almost as if she were invisible, or not on the planet. On the off-chance, he'd even had her scan what she could of the Dark Fortress. He wasn't certain if he were glad or not she wasn't there. At least if she had been, he would know what to do. With her near total vanishment, he had no idea what to do or think.

"We've got to find her," Andros mused, watching Zhane stare at Earth from the window of his room. "I don't know what he'll do if she doesn't come back or where she could go."

T.J. nodded. "She seemed to like him when they were together, do you think it was something. ..we did? She didn't vanish till after the picnic. .."

"Who knows?" Carlos shrugged. All the Rangers were looking at Zhane, who didn't seem to be looking at any of them. "This is kind of strange, especially since DECA can't find her. I thought she could find anyone."

Andros shook his head. "There are a couple of pocket dimensions that can't be scanned by anyone or anything," he said. "She could've blundered into one of those by accident. I don't think Astronema's responsible though. She would've told us about it by now, I think."

"Yeah, you're right," T.J. nodded. "Come on, let's go look again. We should be able to find something."

As soon as everyone had headed for the bridge, Zhane sighed and got up. I've got to get some air, he thought. Blanche, where are you? What did I do?

With that thought, he teleported down to Earth, heading almost unconsciously for the park where he had first taken her hand, and taken the first step towards what he'd hoped was happiness.

* * *

Blanche quietly walked through the park, just taking in some air and lost in her thoughts: her thoughts about Zhane. She knew she couldn't avoid him or her mission forever. She would have to find him and face him, and kill him, sooner or later. Astronema might let her play for now, but if she hesitated too long. . .it would be the downfall of her friends.

Oh, Zhane, she sighed. Why couldn't we have met normally, why couldn't we have fallen in love like a normal couple? I know the only thing you feel for me is the effects of the perfume, and even if I could free my friends, you're still mourning your Zhandra. She was lucky. She died knowing you love her. I have to live knowing you don't really love me.

So intent on her thoughts was she, she didn't notice someone walking on the same path she was. Nor did they notice her, until the two of them collided rather noisily. "Oh, excuse me!" she stammered at once, shaking her head at her clumsiness and looking over to meet the bright eyes of. . ."Zhane?"

"Blanche?" he stared at her in dawning awe and wonder. "What . .where have you been?"

She looked down at once, her heart sinking. I wonder if Astronema somehow engineered this? "Around," she whispered. "I've had some things to think about. A lot of things. Sorry I didn't tell you."

He smiled, and she was suddenly taken aback by just how handsome he was when he did that. "It's okay," he took her hand almost automatically, and she couldn't bring herself to pull it away. "I missed you."

"I . . .missed you too," she whispered, staring at him with wide, misty eyes. "But. . .I . ..I wish I hadn't found you now."

Zhane frowned briefly. "What are you talking about?" what was going on here? Had Astronema done something to her somehow, and they just hadn't detected it in time? What did Blanche mean?

She took a deep breath, taking a firmer grip on his hand, and her free hand dipped closer to her jeans pocket. "My name isn't Blanche Henderson," she said miserably. "I'm Blanche of Eltar. I serve Astronema and I was sent by her to cause you to fall in love with me. I am now under orders to kill you."

As her words fell on Zhane's ears and into his mind, she could literally see him deflating. He'd thought he found a friend and a love, instead he'd encountered only another enemy. His eyes shadowed deeply, and she had to fight back her tears, pulling out the dagger Astronema had given her. "Blanche," he whispered, trying to jerk his hand back from hers and failing. "No, don't!"

"She has no choice," they both looked up to see Astronema and Ecliptor there, with an escort of Quantrons. "Fulfill your mission, Blanche," the evil princess ordered smoothly. "You know what will happen if you don't."

Blanche turned back to Zhane, pulling the dagger back and releasing his hand as two Quantrons leaped up to seize his arms and force him to his knees in front of her. There was no way he could get to his Digimorpher or communicator to call the others. The Silver Ranger took a deep breath, staring at who he thought he had cared about, and who cared about him in return. He said and did nothing as she drew the dagger back for maximum power and thrust. He could see nothing in her eyes, nothing at all.

"Hey!" a flying figure in bright red spandex knocked Blanche down and away from Zhane, as two more in blue and yellow got rid of the Quantrons holding the Silver Ranger. "Blanche, what are you doing?" Andros growled. The very least he'd been when they'd picked up her bio-signature on the sensors was surprised. Shocked and outraged had come a lot closer. "I thought you cared about him!"

"You thought wrong," she grunted out, pushing him away from her. "This is what I must do, Andros! Lives depend on his death."

The Red Ranger shook his head, still keeping himself between her and Zhane. "This isn't right, Blanche, and I think you know it. You can't do this."

"Whether I know it or not isn't the point," she retaliated. "I have to do it. If I don't. . .," she couldn't finish it, her eyes moving to look at Zhane. With a "Let's Rocket!" he had morphed into the Silver Ranger, and she knew she'd have to get him to demorph before she could penetrate his suit. I should've just done it from behind, she mused. Now this is going to be hard.

Carlos and Cassie flipped into position next to their leader. "What, Blanche? What kind of hold does Astronema have over you?" the Black Ranger wondered. "What will happen?"

"You don't want to know," Blanche moved quickly, jerking to one side and doing a forward kick to knock T.J. out of the way, grabbed Zhane by the arm again. "Please, Zhane, don't struggle. It'll only be worse if you do."

The Silver Ranger shook her hand off him and pushed her away. He didn't want to punch her, he could very well have forced his fist through her if he'd done that. "If you're going to kill me, you're going to have to fight me first, Blanche."

"That sounds like a lot of fun to me," Astronema almost laughed. "Fight him, my Blanche. Fight him and drive that blade through his heart. You know the consequences if you don't."

Blanche looked at the evil princess, and closed her eyes for a moment, hating the very concept of what she was going to do. I shouldn't be doing this. I shouldn't do it at all.

"Blanche," Zhane's voice was quiet, and she could feel and hear warmth in it. "Blanche, I love you. Whatever Astronema is doing to make you do this, it can't be worth losing everything else for."

She didn't move. She didn't dare. She couldn't. "It isn't," she whispered. "But I can't let them die. . ."

"You don't have to," a warm voice spoke, and she recognized the Phantom Ranger. "Remember what you are, Blanche of Eltar." there was the very slightest emphasis on her home planet. "Remember who you are. These are Power Rangers, Blanche, they fight for good. What do you fight for?"

Everything and everyone held still, as Blanche remembered other times, other fights. As once before, her friends had caved in the walls of her heart with their friendship and love, now the walls she had erected once more caved in to the weapons of truth and love. She looked down at the knife in her hand, and took a deep breath, turning to Astronema.

"You fight for me, don't you, Blanche of Eltar?" the evil woman's voice turned her name into a mockery. "For evil."

The redhead looked coolly at Astronema, balancing the dagger in one hand. Then, in a lightning movement, she threw it straight at the evil princess. Ecliptor leaped quickly in front of it, blocking the blade with his sword just before it would have transfixed her in the heart. "I fight for peace and justice," she said frostily.

"You've signed your friends' death warrant then," Astronema growled, thanking Ecliptor with a nod of her head. "And I'll make certain they know!"

"Do that," Blanche said quietly. "Because they would rather die than live in a world in which I had betrayed all we fought for. They told me that a long time ago, and I forgot. But never again."

Astronema's eyes blazed, then she and Ecliptor both vanished in their typical flashes of color. Blanche smiled briefly, then swore an Eltarian oath as twenty more Quantrons appeared where they had been standing. "Looks like I'm back on the job," she muttered under her breath, flipping towards a few in front of her and knocking them down with a powerful roundhouse kick.

After a few startled moments, the Rangers joined her in the fight, with Zhane side by side with her. They were startled to see Blanche fighting in a very unusual style, with skill they wouldn't have believed she had if they hadn't seen her. So savagely did she tear into the robotic fighters, it only took a few minutes before the entire fight was over with.

Exhausted and panting, Blanche leaned over trying to catch her breath, and avoided looking at the others. She had to, however, when Arion, in humanoid form, laid a hand on her shoulder. "They must know," he said quietly. "And you are going to need our help to rescue your friends before it is too late."

She sighed. "I know," she said quietly, turning to the others. "Before you ask, I know all about you all being the Power Rangers, and I have ever since I first met you. My name really is Blanche, but I'm from Eltar, not Earth. Could anymore explanations please wait until I've had a shower and some clean clothes, I've had a very rough couple of days."

"All right," Andros nodded. "We'll take you to the MegaShip. I think we've got a very long talk ahead of us."

Zhane smiled faintly, reaching out to take Blanche's hand. "They say that every cloud has a silver lining," he told her. "I guess you could say we found ours."

"I wouldn't be so sure," she warned. "Let's go."

She didn't show the pain that glowed in her heart as they teleported to the MegaShip. She had reclaimed her freedom, but at what cost? Hopefully not their lives, she thought. Please don't let it be their lives.

Only time would tell if her hope was in vain or not.

The End. . .for now.