"There is something in the pang of change More than the heart can bear Unhappiness remembering happiness." -Euripidies
Ashley covertly looked at Andros under her eyelashes as she led him to the vacant room on the Megaship that Tannen said the stranger could have for the duration of the trip. His green eyes were focusing on everything and nothing at the same time it seemed, and Ashley could relate to the feeling. Even though she had been in zords before having come on board this ship the first time, the complexities of the systems and the intricacies of the controls had been enough to suitably amaze her.
As they reached the last door in the hallway, Ashley stopped and turned to face him. Andros looked at her and once again wondered what exactly was going through her mind when she stared at him so openly with those brown eyes. Instead of asking though, he gave the hallway one last cursory look. The ship itself was a great deal more complex than anything his master, Darkconda, had ever made him work on. Granted, most of the things he had worked on were simple battle fighters, but he was sure that this ship put all of Darkconda’s fleet to shame. He smiled slightly at the thought. It would have irked his master a great deal to realize that there was a ship in the universe that surpassed all of his fleet in complexity and in quality.
“Here we are.” Ashley said nervously, as she watched a small, private smile flit across Andros’ face. “Tannen said that you could have this room for the night. We should be back to Earth by dawn.” She continued as she tried not to allow herself to get too flustered as he focused his green eyes on her. He nodded solemnly and she turned and pushed the door release mechanism. The door slid up, and Ashley let him go in first.
“Is it all right if Starslinger stays in here with me? I doubt he’ll like it much in the hanger.” Andros asked as he took in the silver fixtures and silver bedspread at one glance. Ashley shot him a dubious glance, and then gave the room a speculatory look.
“Do you think he’ll fit in here comfortably?” She asked then. He smiled at her then as he pulled something out of his pocket. Curious, the girl in yellow drew closer to see what it was he had in his hand.
“As a horse, no. But he’ll do fine as a mouse.” Andros said as he opened his fingers to reveal a small golden rodent. Ashley tried not to shriek as the mouse hoped agiley off Andros’ fingertips to the ground.
“How does he change like that?” She asked as the mouse ran under the bed and then came back out in the shape of a cat. “Where did you get him?” Ashley bent down and scratched the cat under the chin as Andros sat down lightly on the silver bedspread. The cat looked up at her and gave a Cheshire grin. Inquisitive filly. He projected and Ashley managed a rueful look as she sat down beside Andros on the bed. “I’m curious, I’m sorry. I can’t help it.” She muttered under her breath.
“I still can’t get over the fact that you can hear him. Nobody has been able to hear him before but me.” Andros said mystified as the cat jumped up between them and curled up into a ball. “He found me about two years ago, when things weren’t looking to good for me. I guess you could say Starslinger adopted me.” Andros looked up to Ashley, a little perplexed by the fact that he wasn’t as cautious around her as he was with other people. Maybe it was the fact that she really didn’t seem to have any concept of exactly what he was. But what ever it was, he was glad that she hadn’t hated him on the spot. For the first time in a very long time, he realized, someone else’s opinion mattered a great deal to him.
“Listen, Andros, I have to get back to the bridge to help Tannen.” Ashley said finally, breaking the comfortable silence between them as she got off the bed. “Tannen said that you should feel free to help yourself to any of the clothes in those drawers over there. If you need anything just ask DECA, or you can just go down the hallway to the bridge to find us.” Ashley said as she left the room.
Andros waited for a few moments before he made his way over to the drawers. He opened the first one, and silver colored clothing looked up at him. He managed a weak smile as he dug to the bottom of the drawer in hopes of finding anything that had at least a tiny shred of red in it. At the bottom of the drawer, he found the only shirt in the entire drawer that had different colors incorporated with the silver. It was basically silver, but across the chest, their were two solid red bars that had a solid purple bar in between them. As he pulled it out, something flitted to the floor.
Curious, he picked up the thick glossy paper that had a picture on one side. As he looked at it, all of the suspicions he had had since entering the room, were confirmed.
He managed a bittersweet smile. With their arms around each other’s shoulders, Carone, Zhane, and Andros smiled with childlike innocence at the person taking the picture.
He was in Zhane’s room.
Ten years earlier KO-35 holding facilities, Theria district
“Andros? Carone? You guys in there?” Zhane whispered quietly as he tried to make out his friend’s figures in the moving mass of children in the first floor of the city’s holding facilities. He knew that if his parents knew where he was, he would be in a heap of trouble. Which was why he hadn’t bothered to tell them that he was going to sneak out of the house after they’d gone to sleep. Some things, he figured were better left unasked.
“Zhane? What are you doing here?” Andros’ voice demanded. Zhane looked down through the barred window and grinned as he caught sight of his two best friends. Slowly, Andros and Carone made their way through a maze of sleeping children until they were standing under the window that Zhane was looking through.
“I came to see you guys.” Zhane answered simply. In the dim light of the moon, he could make out their grimy faces. Both had smudges of dirt on their faces, and covering their clothes. They were the same clothes they’d had on when the government had taken them here a week ago he noted as he looked at Carone’s, now dirty, yellow jumper. “What happened to your faces?” He asked then as he got a good glance at the area of their skin above their right temples. There was some type of marking that he couldn’t totally make out in the dark, but he could see the puffiness of the skin, and he saw crusty strands in Andros’ hair that he was sure was dried blood.
“Slave Tattoos.” Carone answered him bitterly, as she gingerly touched hers. “They tattooed everyone yesterday, and it feels like I’ve taken a hammer to my forehead.”
Zhane frowned, and then motioned her closer. Gently, he placed the palm of his hand against the inflamed area, and tightly shut his eyes. After a few moments, he opened them, and withdrew his hand.
“Thanks Zhane.” She said as she put a hand against the now healed skin. “It feels much better now.” She added as she brushed the stray bangs off her forehead.
“C’mere Andros.” Zhane then said authoritatively as he winked at Carone. She smiled back at him. They both knew that Andros was just about as stubborn as they came. Reluctantly the boy in red came to the window, and let the boy in silver put a hand on the irritated looking skin around the tattoo.
“I feel like such a sissy when I let you do this, Zhane.” Andros grouched, as he picked at the torn edge of his long sleeved shirt. Zhane bit back a smile, and merely rolled his eyes.
“But it doesn’t hurt anymore does it.” Zhane retorted as he pulled his hand back to his side. Andros cracked a small grin in the moonlight, and Zhane once again was struck by the oddity of the situation. It seemed like this was all happening too fast, and being eight years old, he was powerless to stop any of it. Idly, he wondered how his friends were dealing with it.
“We’re being sold tomorrow.” Carone’s sad voice interrupted his thoughts. Wildly, he looked back and forth between their faces to confirm what she said. They both nodded sadly. Zhane looked at his best friends, his only friends, in shock. He knew that orphans without relations traditionally became slaves, but up until now, he hadn’t actually thought it could happen to anyone he knew.
“Chances are, we’ll never see you again, Zhane. They are taking us to Xenarthra on the other side of the planet to auction us off.” Carone said softly, as a single tear escaped unnoticed down her cheek. Andros nodded his agreement.
Carone tried not to cry at the horrified look on Zhane’s face. It was all happening too fast. Her parents had died less than two weeks ago, but it seemed like months ago, so much had changed. She felt tears of frustration and pain work their way into her eyes as she blinked furiously. Crying was something little girls did, and she wasn’t a little girl anymore. She looked over to Andros, and knew instinctively that he was struggling as hard as she was to keep his composure.
“No! This isn’t happening!” Zhane bit out angrily. “I’ll go get my Dad. He’ll get you guys out of here.” He said determinedly as he impatiently shoved his white blonde hair out of his face.
“He already tried.” Andros said dejectedly, as he tried to forget the memory of his friend’s father giving them one last hug and telling them how sorry he was. “He didn’t have enough money, and they weren’t inclined to negotiate either. I think it had something to do with regulations and the fact that Mom and Dad were personalities.”
“I don’t care about the money and I don’t care about the regulations. You guys are my friends and I’m breaking you out of here.” Zhane snapped as he tried to pry a bar out of the window.
“Don’t Zhane.” Carone whimpered as she threw a frightened look over her shoulder. Andros mimicked the action, and Zhane looked at them both with irritated curiosity. For the most part, his friends were completely fearless, just like him. Their actions didn’t make any sense to him at all.
“They killed the last kid who tried to escape.” Andros said quietly as he pointed to a figure in the corner of the cell that wasn’t moving.
Andros let out a muffled grunt as a jarring motion threw him out of the memory and against the wall of his dead friend’s room. Starslinger let out a startled hiss as the sound of metal creaking from above them was followed by another violent shake. “What in the world is going on?” Andros demanded under his breath as he looked to the small catlike creature. Starslinger let out a muffled meow as he quickly changed shapes into a small monkey.
I do not know *everything* young colt. My suggestion would be to find the bridge before the ship is no more. Starslinger’s sarcastic voice penetrated his mind, and he had to roll his eyes as he grabbed the small monkey. The creature clung to the silver shirt as they made their way out of the room and down the quaking hallway.
“What’s going on?” He demanded as the rolling of the ship slammed him against the doorway of the bridge. Ashley spared him a worried look before she then turned to concentrate on the viewing screen before.
“We’re caught in a tractor beam. It’s pulling us towards the Dark Fortress.” She answered quickly as he finally made it to her side. Without a word, he reached over and took control of the starboard thrusters allowing her more freedom to stabilize the engine, which was coming close to malfunctioning due to heat stress.
“You may get to see your sister sooner than we thought.” Tannen gritted out as a greeting as the engines fluctuated once more, jarring the ship and throwing him side first into the main control console. “Ashley, how much time do we have to get out of this beam before we fry the engines?”
“None. They’re fried now.” Andros shouted as he grabbed Ashley’s shoulders, preventing her from falling to the floor as the ship rocked violently. “That would be the emergency override shutting them down before they explode.” Andros said as the ship came to an errie stand still. Tannen muttered an expletive as he hauled himself up from off the hard floor.
“So what do we do now?” Ashley asked as she pulled up the main viewing screen just in time to see the Megaship dock on the enemy craft. “They’re going to try to board.” She said as she turned her eyes on Andros.
“They already have!” Tannen yelled as he grabbed for his blaster. The door in the back of the bridge was glowing and it was obvious, as the door slide up an inch or two, that their sanctuary was about to be breached. “They must have teleported on once we got in range.” He muttered more to himself than anyone else in the room. “Hurry and take the other door. I’ll try to hold them off.” Ashley and Andros hesitated. “Go!” Tannen yelled.
Andros grabbed Ashley’s hand, and dragged her towards the door. “There is no sense in all of us getting captured. If we get away we’ll at least have a chance to rescue him.” He said to her as he slammed the door release mechanism with his fist.
The door slid up only to reveal a squadron of Quanatrons. Ashley reached to her hip and pulled out her blaster while Andros stumbled out of the way. She ducked behind a console and let off a round of shots. Andros managed to duck a few of the shots fired by the Quanatrons before he slid down beside her. Ashley picked off a few of the gray beings before they even managed to walk through the doorway, but it became increasingly obvious that they were seriously outnumbered as two Quanatrons seemed to replace every one that was shot down. “We can’t keep this up forever.” She said to Andros as she trained her eye on the closest metal body and fired another round of shots.
“Ashley watch out!” Tannen yelled from across the room as the quanatrons that had breached the other door came streaming towards them. Andros jumped in front of her back, taking the blow from an oncoming Quanatron that had been meant for her. Quickly, she whipped around and fired off a volley of blasts as Andros fell to his knees in front of her. In the corner of her eye she watched with growing horror as a group of Quanatrons grabbed Tannen’s arms, forcing him to the ground and into submission. They were losing the battle once more. Desperately, she swiveled back to shoot at some more of the beings.
“Ashley!” Andros cried out hoarsely, and she felt herself being roughly hauled off the floor by metallic hands. To her right she saw that they had managed to catch Andros as well. Defeated, she let the blaster fall from her finger tips as the Quanatrons forced her to her knees.
“We have successfully captured three of them, Princess.” Ecliptor said as he led a woman adorned in black leggings and a purple, skin tight tunic through the hanger bay to the Megaship.
“Excellent.” She said with a happy giggle as they boarded the now defenseless ship. “With these three under control, it won’t be long before that stupid backwaters planet is completely under my control. Which three rangers have we caught?”
Ecliptor stumbled slightly and then regained his footing as he led her down the empty hallway of the enemy’s ship. “We have managed to capture the Red ranger and one of the yellow rangers. We have been unable to identify the third human, he lacks a power signature, and he isn’t in any of the data logs that we have.” The cuboidal being said slowly. Astronema shot him a nasty glare.
“Well, I’ll fix that.” She said as she entered the bridge. “What do we have here?” She announced with a evil grin as she looked at the three humans before her that were subjugated by her minions. “You thought you could sneak by me and return to Earth did you?” She watched, somewhat pleased as the red ranger glared at her with unrepressed malice. Good. The angrier he is, the more mistakes he will make. I have you now, Tannen. She flashed him a triumphant smile just for added insult. He struggled against his restraints as he gave her a nasty sneer.
“My, my aren’t we in a bad mood?” She purred. “To bad, Red ranger. Its about time you learned who is in control of this universe.” She turned her back on him, and then deliberately walked over to the one human she failed to recognize. “And who might you be?” She asked with a hard look.
“What? Don’t recognize your own brother, Astronema? Your own twin?” Tannen yelled out from behind her. She whipped around, and gave him a repressing look.
“Silence him.” She demanded. A Quanatron obliged her, and clipped him hard at the base of his skull. Tannen’s eyes rolled back in his head, and without a word, he fell to the floor, knocked out cold. Satisfied, she turned around to regard the stranger. He was gaping at her in disbelief and his face had gone stark white.
“No...No! You are not my sister!” Andros yelled as he regarded the evil villainess before him. Carone had been pure hearted, there hadn’t been a malicious bone in her entire body. The girl standing bore no resemblance to the sweet, innocent sister he’d spent the first eight years of his life with.
“She is your sister, Andros. I’m so sorry.” Ashley said beside him. He turned to her in disbelief, only to find a tear sliding down her cheek. “I didn’t know how to tell you.” She whispered softly.
Astronema watched the interaction, and felt a shiver of dread crawl up her spine. Things were not going the way she had planned. “Take them to the brig!” She finally decreed loudly, trying to cover up the fact that she was shaken by the interchange. Angry at herself, she abruptly turned and left, not even bothering to watch her minions carry out her orders.
Andros pulled the glossy 3” by 5” picture out of his back pocket as he waited for Tannen to come to in the cold dark cell. Ashley was curled up against him, her hand laying lightly over his chest, just missing the new injury he had acquired from the Quanatron’s blaster. He switched his attention from the picture for a moment as he looked down at the top of her silky brown hair. She had been reluctant to go to sleep, and he was happy that she had finally given in to the exhaustion that had obviously been plaguing her. He got the impression as he watched the two rangers, that neither one of them had gotten much sleep in what he had guessed had been a very long time. He hoped they weren’t disturbed for a while, they both deserved some sleep, and it would give Starslinger some time to rescue them.
He looked back at the picture, and he held back a bittersweet smile. It was the last time he’d been together with Zhane, and Carone. And it was the last time that the three of them would ever be together. He’d known with an errie certainty when Zhane had left them at the slave holding area, that they’d never see him again. Carone hadn’t believed him. But he’d “seen” Zhane sprawled out dead in the midst of a battle field. He let out a shuttered, painful sigh, as he stared at the young smiling faces.
*** KO-35, Theria district The Andros and Carone’s backyard
“Zhane! Put Amelai down!” Carone demanded with a giggle as her pet cabbit floated past her head and over the swing set. The catlike, rabbit creature let out a pitiful meow as it stared down at the ground below her.
“I’m going to. Just give me a minute, I’ve never been able to pick up anything this heavy before.” Zhane retorted with a grin. Amelai let out an indignant hiss, and Carone rolled her eyes.
“Zhane, the cabbit isn’t *that* heavy.” Andros said, the laughter in his voice threatening to bubble over. Zhane shot him a look that said otherwise. The cabbit slowly floated to the ground.
“There I put her down.” He said as he gave a deep bow. The cabbit let out an unimpressed meow and turned her back on the blonde haired boy in silver. “Oh, poor, Amelai, you didn’t like your first flight into the air? How about this? Will this make it all better?” He asked as he pulled a carrot out from behind his back and waved it back and forth. Amelai turned her head, and cocked a floppy ear. “Yum, yum, Amelai. See the carrot?” The cabbit took off like a flash and bit the carrot out of Zhane’s hand.
“I see you know how to bribe her properly. No wonder she loves you, and no wonder she’s so fat.” Carone said with a childish laugh as she pumped herself higher on the swing.
“What’s the adventure for the afternoon?” Andros asked as he climbed into the swing next to his sister. Zhane bounded over to the swing set and pulled out his fake blaster from its homemade holster.
“I say we rescue Princess Carone from the evil Barillian space pirates today!” He announced as he trained the gun on a harmless bush and pretended to shoot it.
“Aren’t Barillians a type of bug?” Carone asked. “Sorry, but no way, no how pal. No bug is coming near me, and that’s final.” The blond haired girl said with certainty.
“Carone, there’s a spider on your shoulder.” Andros and Zhane said at the same time. She leapt from the swing and hastily brushed at her purple shirt.
“Get it off! Get it off!” She yelped as she danced around.
“Carone, we were just joking.” Zhane said as he fell to the ground in a fit of laughter. She glared at him.
“Kids! Kids get in here right now!”
“Mom’s calling. We better go see what she wants.” Andros announced as he got off the swing and helped Zhane to his feet. think she might have found the stink bomb from when we were playing, ‘defend KO-35 from the smelly cat creatures’. I think it would be safe to say that we’re in trouble.”
“That’s okay, we’ll just tell her it was Carone’s idea to pull out the rotten eggs and use them as bait for the traps.” Zhane said with a smile as he ducked. Carone glared at him half heartedly as her fist flew wide of its mark.
“Boys. Ha. Ha. Very funny you two. Just you wait! I’m going to find a really good way to get even. And the eggs were *your* idea Zhane.” Carone said as she fell in beside her brother and her best friend.
“Yeah, yeah. We know.” Zhane said as he threw an arm around her shoulders and Andros’.
“What is that you have?” Astronema demanded as she peered through the bars into the dark cell. The stranger had something in his hands and she was bound and determined to discover what it was. “Guards, get that for me.” She announced. Two quanatrons opened the cell and snatched the picture from Andros’ hands before he could even blink. Within seconds, they were out of the cell once more.
“Give it back.” Andros demanded coldly. She raised an eyebrow at his insolence as she glanced down at the picture that was now in her hands. It was familiar, but unfamiliar. She frowned slightly. It felt like she should know the children in the picture, but she didn’t.
“Who are these people.” She demanded, her voice failing to come out in its usual abrupt manner. For the first time in as long as she could remember, she felt a little...lost. And she felt an overwhelming sense of deja-vu.
“Its my best friend and my twin sister.” He answered coldly. She looked up at him, a little taken back by the hatred she saw burning in his eyes. For some reason, it struck a nerve in her heart, and she felt the urge to say she was sorry. Quickly, she stamped it down. The Princess of Darkness apologized to no one.
“Why carry around a picture of three brats?” She said with disdain as she tore the picture down the middle. “Its not like you won’t be able to live in servitude with them once we reach Earth.” She said carelessly as she pocketed the pieces of the picture.
“That was the last time I was with both of them together, and its was the last time I ever would be. You killed my best friend.” Andros said in a soft voice that hummed with malevolence. She backed hastily away from the cell, and then gave him one last disdainful glare.
“I’ll be back later.” She said as she then left with two Quanatrons trailing behind her. ***
Ten Years Earlier Xenarthian Stockyards of KO-35
The two eight year olds huddled together on the plank wood stage, trying in vain not to show the fear that was pumping through their blood as the crowd before them looked on with unknown eyes. Behind them, in the back, there were rows upon rows of children that ranged anywhere from six months to 16 years of age. People milled about glancing curiously at the two in the middle of the poorly constructed platform. Others tried to catch a peak at the ones behind the stage, but the ten burly guards stationed there, quickly thwarted their attempts.
The twins shrank back as a rather large, rather odious man confidently made his way up onto the stage. He sneered at them slightly, and motioned two of the guards to bring them closer to the front of the platform. The boy shot him a contemptuous glare as a guard grabbed his sister's arm and began to drag her forward. The man merely blew his bulbulous nose in a handkerchief and then shot the two a reprimanding look.
The twins shrank back from the look, fully aware of the repercussions behind it. He gave them a sadistic smile, and then turned to the crowds before them, a false smile glowing on his face.
"Welcome to the second annual slave auction, folks. My name is Zoul, and we will begin our bidding with these two fine specimens." Zoul motioned to the guards who forcefully shoved the two children into the spotlight. "As you can see, they are both young, and still at a trainable age. They are eight years old, and in the finest of health. Both are strong and capable of any form of manual labor." He expounded. The crowd studied them for a thoughtful moment.
"What about they're teeth? They got to have good teeth." An unknown individual shouted out from the throng before the rickety platform. Zoul smiled patronizingly. With a flick of his meaty hand, he motioned the guards to open their mouths.
They chose the girl first. She was easier to subdue, and without much pressure, they forced her jaw open. Tears of humiliation streamed down her face as Zoul came over to her and peered in.
"As you can see, she has lost most of her milk teeth, and the permanent ones are coming in nicely. There will be no need for dental work on this slave." Zoul predicted with flare as he motioned the guards to release her. She hugged her middle for a moment, sniffling quietly, and then tried to run to her brother. The two guards restrained her before she even got half way. Zoul was already beside the boy as another pair of guards attempted to open the child's mouth.
Finally the burly men succeeded, and Zoul stuck a sweaty finger in the boy's mouth for show. The child bit it, and without thinking, Zoul backhanded him. Silently, the large man seethed at the little upstart. He had been hoping to get 1000 zanarians for him, but now he'd be lucky if he got ten. No one wanted willful, defiant slaves. Quickly, Zoul decided it was time to start the bidding before anything else went wrong.
Zoul brought the girl forward first. Her grimy blonde hair fell in her eyes as she averted her gaze from the growing throng of humanity before her. Her brother watched helplessly from the sidelines.
"The bidding starts at 500 zanarians." Zoul stated loudly. There was a deafening silence, and he frowned. "She is worth much more than 500 zanarians, folks, I can assure you that this is a real bargain. Her parents were both personalities." Zoul laid out his trump card and smiled at the crowd's excited reaction. Personalities were rumored to be hereditary, and if they could be controlled, they were worth a fortune.
"1000 zanarians!" An excited voice rang out. Zoul smiled to himself as the bidding escalated from there. He was going to make a handsome commission off this brat, he couldn't help but think happily.
"One million zanarains."
The crowd instantly hushed as a black cuboidal being approached the front of the stage.
"Sold." Zoul said instantly. He had not realized that the girl child was valuable enough to attract the attention of the likes of Ecliptor, but he was not dumb enough to heckle the dark lord for more money. Zoul placed value of his own life just before his value of money. Asking for more for the girl would mean his death, and he had no desire to die.
The cuboidal being smiled as he handed the cashier the zanarians and then walked on stage. The girl tried to run from him, but he caught her neatly in two quick strides.
"Andros!" She cried out as the being bodily hauled her off the stage.
"Carone!" He called back as the guards shoved him towards the front of the platform. He watched helplessly as both his sister and the being disappeared in a flash of green light.
Present Dark Fortress
Astronema woke with a sudden gasp as her mind forced her body to wake from the unpleasant dream. Shakily, she got up from the violet fringed bed and made her way to the chair and table in front of her mirror. She sat down heavily in the chair, and stared at her reflection.
Without a sound, she gave a graceful sweep of her fingers in the air in front of her face. The magical facade that was always in place, melted away. The once unblemished skin above her right eye faded into an old tattoo. Two blue bars encased a star followed by three digits.
She puzzled over its appearance for a few minutes before replacing the magical facade. The bits of memory were beginning to surface more and more frequently as the months went by. They were hazy, disjointed tidbits that made little sense to her.
Ecliptor had advised her to forget about them, and to not believe them. He had told her that they were the results of a spell the rangers of Earth had placed on her in order to try and trap her. She frowned slightly at the thought.
She was trained to recognize spells, and this did not have the telltale signature of a spell. It didn't have a signature at all. They were indeed blurred products of her own memory. Not for the first time in months, she wondered what it was Ecliptor was trying to hide from her.
She pulled out the picture she had taken from the strange prisoner. Magically, she melded the two halves back into one piece. There was definitely something strangely familiar about the faces in the picture. She sighed as she let the picture float down to table. The lack of knowledge frustrated her, and made her scared. Fear was a feeling she was unaccustomed to, and its presence at the edge of her conscious made her edgy and uncertain.
Why would her guardian, her protector, lie to her?