There was an audible snap as everything that she had known to be reality, to be truth, vanished in one moment of time. Idly, Carone surveyed her surroundings as she tried to clamp down the panic that was welling up in her chest and threatening to break loose.
It was dark. She noticed that right away as she looked around the stark bedroom. A solitary bulb, suspended from the ceiling, let out a dull, dingy glow that cast shadows against the rough hewn gray walls. There was a bed in one corner of the room, but the single pillow and sorry looking blanket did not offer a comforting sense of security in her mind. Carone let out a small, stressed breath of air as she vainly tried to figure out what had happened to her. One moment she had been standing next to Zhane on the jungle planet of Utoba, and the next moment she found herself in this depressing excuse of a bedroom.
"Who are you and what are you doing here?"
She let out a muffled yelp as she quickly swung around to identify the source of the voice. A young man, slightly older than her she guessed, stood silently in the doorway. His dark auburn hair was streaked with dirt and blood from an old cut on his forehead. His brilliant blue eyes watched her with mixed curiosity and suspicion through the soot and grime that covered his face and clothes.
"Carone." She croaked, her voice lodging in her throat. "I don't know how I got here. One minute I was with Zhane, the next minute I was here." She muttered more to herself than to him. He frowned slightly at her as he slowly walked all the way into the small room. A small green dragon accompanied him, and she was immediately assaulted by a wall of gray color that tinted her vision.
"Zhane?" He asked in mild disbelief. She nodded uncertainly as she watched the dragon's attention snap to her. It stared at her for a moment and then let out a hiss of fire as it flew off the ground and landed protectively on the boy's shoulder. _ _ Enemy! Astronema!_ _ Carone heard the words as clear as day in her head, and she looked at the creature in amazement.
"My name is Carone now." She said with a hint of steel in her voice. She was quickly beginning to lose patience with the strangeness of the situation and her own lack of knowledge. "Where is Zhane, and for that matter, where am I?"
"You mean you don't know?" He asked as he raised an eyebrow. She frowned at him. "You're in what used to be Angel Grove. It's now District AG-4." He said with a snort of disgust. Her brow furrowed in confusion.
"District AG-4?" She echoed. "Where is Zhane? I was just with him. Do you happen to know where Andros might be?"
"Zhane is dead. He died three years ago at the attack on KO-35." The auburn haired man said as he looked at her coolly from across the room, his aloof posture indicating that he still didn't trust her.
"No he didn't." She denied vehemently. "Andros saved him in just enough time to put him into hyper sleep. He reawakened, fully healed, about a year ago." She said with a bit of impatience. What he was telling her couldn't possibly be real. It just couldn't. She knew reality, and what he was telling her wasn't it.
"Andros? Who's Andros?" He asked, confusion marring his features. She stared back at him in shock and mixed amusement. _Everyone knows my brother. He complains bitterly about it, too. He says that he can't go out on a date with Ashley anywhere on Earth without getting stopped for an autograph or an interview or something._ Her frown deepened as the possibilities of what the guy in front of her was trying to tell her conflicted with what she knew.
"Andros. The red ranger from KO-35 who led the Earth rangers to victory against evil." She attempted with a bit of impatience. Obviously she had landed herself in what Carlos would call the twilight zone, but this guy wasn't helping her discover anything with his short, discomfiting answers and questions. She crossed her arms over her stomach as she waited for him to quit giving her that haunted gaze of shock. It was really beginning to unnerve her.
"I am the red ranger from KO-35." He said finally, making her jump slightly as his voice broke the silence. "Evil won out here against good. Angel Grove was overthrown by Astronema, forcing the rangers into hiding as the city was divided up into military district camps." He said as he stared hard at her. She shook her head violently.
"No! Andros stopped me from doing that. You lie!" She accused as she numbly sat down on the bed. He got up and faced her.
"No, I'm not. You only have to walk outside to know that I tell the truth. Quantrons patrol every inch of this planet." He said sadly, and then held up a hand quickly, motioning her to be silent as the sounds of soft footfalls came closer to the rickety door. He quickly took out a blaster from behind his back, and instinctively placed himself between her and the door. Carone watched with curiosity and mild worry as the door opened.
TJ, Ashley, and Carlos all walked in looking bedraggled and tired. Carone smiled happily at the sight of them, though. _Finally, some people I recognize. They will be able to explain what's going on to me._ She waited for them to recognize her. They didn't, and they failed to return her encouraging smile. Instead, their eyes filled with suspicion as they all regarded her with cautious stares. For a moment, she was convinced she had been transported back in time to when she had first defected from evil.
"Who is she?" TJ demanded, nodding in her direction.
"A friend." The auburn haired man beside her answered.
"I thought we agreed, Tannen!" Carlos bit out angrily. "No more civilian recruits. I don't know about you, but I can't live with the deaths of any more people on my conscious. She's bound to get killed in the first skirmish we have." He added heatedly. Carone shot him a confused glare at his underestimation of her fighting abilities.
"She's not here to fight." Tannen said tiredly as he then turned to look at her. "If I'm not mistaken, I think she's merely lost for the moment." He added in her defense, much to her amazement. "If I'm right," he hesitated, "she's just passing through."
"Where's Cassie?" Carone asked suddenly as it occurred to her that the pink ranger wasn't present. In her mind, the four Earth rangers were nearly inseparable; where one was the others were bound to follow. It struck her, that in a situation like this, Cassie would have been among them. Four pale faces stared back at her.
"Who are you?" Ashley demanded tightly as she reached defensively for her blaster.
"Its me, Carone." She said hesitantly. "Don't you remember me, Ashley?" The blonde girl in purple asked with a hint of hurt confusion in her voice.
"She doesn't know you, Carone." Tannen said after a moment of tense silence. "None of them do." He added as he eyed her shirt. "Purple, huh? Another personality." A humorless smile lit his face as what he was trying to tell her was slowly beginning to dawn on her. "A dimension hopper."
"A dimension hopper? You mean, when I passed out I left my dimension, and ended up here?" She said as she looked around the room and at the Earth rangers with new understanding.
"Cassie's alive in your dimension isn't she?" He asked, his voice catching on her name. Carone nodded. "She's not in this dimension." He finally said after another strained silence. "She died in the first wave of attack here. Your Andros wasn't here to stop it." He said with a heavy sigh. Carone looked at them all with a mixture of sadness and pity.
"How do I get home?" She asked in a small voice. This place was like something out of a really bad nightmare. Her alter ego had destroyed everything. Zhane was dead, Cassie was dead, and her brother was nowhere to be found.
"I'm not certain, mind you, but I think that all you have to do is picture a place or a person from your own dimension and you should be able to control the transport." He said. His azure gaze focusing on her. Her hand reached out and gave him what she hoped was a comforting pat on the shoulder.
"Find my brother Andros. He is the key to Astronema's downfall." She said quickly before he could say anything.
"Thank you. We will find him." He then plucked the green dragon off his shoulder and thrust it into her arms. "Take George with you." He implored. "I can't stand to see him like this anymore. He. . . he reminds me too much of her." Cassie nodded solemnly as she clutched the irritated dragon to her chest. Tannen gave her a ghost of a smile and then kissed her forehead. "Take him to the Cassie in your dimension, and tell the Tannen in your dimension, should you ever meet him, that he made the right choice in following the vision's prediction. Tell him he did the right thing. He has to know that." With that said, the proud red ranger backed away. She gave them all a wane smile and then tightly shut her eyes. Within seconds, she was gone leaving only a faint, fading purple haze in her wake. Everyone stood in the room staring at the spot where she had vanished until the purple glow had faded completely into oblivion.
"Who exactly was that? She looked so familiar." TJ said, breaking the silence as they all turned to the Kerovian red ranger for answers.
"That. . . That was Astronema, I believe." Tannen finally said with a hint of a smile at his teammates shocked faces. "If you can do it without attracting any attention to the hidden refugee camp, go get Tryan and the rest. We now have a new plan of action to defeat Astronema." He said with a grim expression. He watched as they filed slowly out of his pathetic room.
It was ironic, their chance encounter with the girl in purple today. _Destiny's daughter offers me hope while Fate's child mocks my efforts._ In the back of his mind, he acknowledge that he now had the key to turning the tide against evil, but it really didn't seem as important as it should of. _How could I find that important? To find that important would mean that I would have to feel hope again. But hope is something that is reserved for other people. I've lost the one person who meant more to me than life itself. And I can't even blame anyone but myself._ He had made the wrong choice, he finally acknowledged to himself. Tears stung his eyes as he choked on the raw emotion that was working its way through him. Carone's visit had brought a renewed hope to the world, whether they knew it or not, and it offered him a chance to make amends for the past. But it couldn't bring his Cassie back to life. And it couldn't change the fact that he'd killed her just as surely as if he had been the monster that had struck her down in battle. He closed his eyes for a moment, and pictured the stars he knew where shining in the sky. And for a brief second in time, he tried to block out everything into a wonderful black oblivion of peace.