Chapter Three
By Nancy E. Shaw

The Kerova System, home to 42 individual planetoids, but with only one capable of supporting life. Kerova 35, dubbed KO-35 by the Eltarians who charted it, was a cold world, watery and frigid in nearly all it's regions. But one lucky continent drifted slowly around the equator, where the warming rays of the sun could reach it. On that continent a colony had been born, and in that colony, eighteen years ago, a future Ranger had been born.

Andros hadn't returned to his home planet for several years, until his adventures with the Planetary Rangers took him there. Now he returned again, hoping to find some long-awaited answers to some burning questions. He traveled alone on his Galaxy Glider, soaring between the skyscrapers. On the horizon, a lush streak of green marked his destination.

He flew closer until he was skimming over the treetops, and from there he could see the small clearing he had not visited for nine long years. He could also see a figure standing in the clearing-- thick bodied with sword at the ready, and crimson eyes glowing up at him. Andros swallowed, more to curb his rising ire than to calm his nerves.

Finally his Glider came to rest a few inches off the ground, and Andros stood face to face with the mysterious alien known as Darkonda. The perpetual grin he wore looked even more feral and smirking than usual. Spreading his arms, he cried, "Welcome Red Ranger! I knew I could count on you to decipher my riddle!"

Andros kept his voice level and low. "Where's the girl?"

"All in due time, my friend. First I'd like to play a little game of 'This is your life'..."

"Don't waste my time with--"

"You have plenty of time before the end, Red Ranger." Darkonda cut in. "Indulge me with a walk down memory lane. You recall your dear little sister, don't you?"

Andros clenched his jaw shut to keep from cursing.

"Of course you do! What an adorable pair you made...just two little cherubs without a care in the world. It was almost more than I could do to disturb such a scene..."

"I'm warning you Darkonda, where's the girl?"

"Not very patient are you, my friend?" Darkonda gave a resigned sigh. "Have faith, I'll be quick. The point of my little story, dear Andros, is that the one you've sought for all these years; the one responsible for your sister's kidnapping, was--"

"Powers damn you Darkonda!" Andros exploded. "Don't you think I know who it was? And I'll hunt you to the ends of the universe to take my revenge too, but today all I want is the Earth girl you took last night. You can wander down memory lane all you want, but I'm not leaving here empty handed. Am I clear?"

Slowly, confidently, the mutant bounty hunter began to laugh. He laughed louder and louder until the laughs rang throughout the forest and bounced off the blue sky. Then he took a deep breath and nodded.

"I hear you, fool." he sneered. "I only wish you had said something believable. Quantrons!"

On his command, swarms of Quantron drones emerged from the trees to surround Andros. Several of them aimed blasters and fired, hitting the Galaxy Glider at close range. As Andros leaped clear, the crimson vehicle struck the ground, spewing smoke from it's thruster housing. The Glider wouldn't be doing any gliding for a while-- Andros would be the one carrying it home that day, instead of the reverse.

If he survived, that is...the drones were closing in while Darkonda stood by laughing evilly. There were more of them than Andros could handle on his own. It was time to call in the Ace up his sleeve.

"Troops charge!" he cried at the top of his lungs, and then dove headlong into the fray.

All at once, there was a battle cry from the forest and many colored figures began to appear. Darkonda was enraged to see nearly two dozen Rangers charge into the clearing to surround Andros and the Quantrons alike. "What nonsense is this??" he demanded.

Andros dispatched a metal minion and cried, "Just a little sleight of hand, Darkonda. Time to play my little game!" The Red Ranger produced his Spiral Saber with a flicker of red light. On cue, the army of Rangers produced weapons as well, each corresponding with the correct color. No one noticed that four of the soldiers moved a split second ahead of the rest.

The Quantrons were frozen, their programming failing them in a time of such confusion. They looked to Darkonda for answers, but he stood fuming at the trick he was falling for. Angrily, he shouted, "Quantrons, attack them! Destroy the real Rangers! But leave the Red Ranger to me..."

Andros just smiled under his helmet. "Come and get me. It's about time we came full circle."

So amid the chaos of Quantrons and Power Rangers doing battle in the clearing, the two foes met, swords clashing with the sound of thunder. They hardly noticed the war going on while they fought, matching each other blow-for-blow in swordplay. Every strike was blocked, every slash averted, every parry countered. Despite Darkonda's greater size and strength, neither could get an effective blow through the other one's guard.

At least, not until a Quantron got off a lucky shot, blasting Andros' Saber from his hand. He bobbed a cut and weaved under it, throwing himself after his weapon which lay on the ground a few meters away. But as he grabbed it Darkonda came after him, sword lifted high and aimed for the Red Ranger's spine. Andros scrambled up just in time to throw up is guard and save his neck.

But now they were locked in a stalemate, nose to nose and hilt-to-hilt.

"You'll never win Red Ranger! When I am King of Darkness, it is I who will hunt you down and take your head!"

But Andros wasn't interested. "You know, if there were anyone in the universe I wanted Astronema to defeat, it would be you!"

As if on cue, a blast of purple energy slammed into them, knocking them apart like bowling pins. Andros crashed to the ground and saw stars for a moment--then he saw the source of the blast: Astronema herself, standing on a hilltop not far away.

"Quantrons retreat!" she ordered in a ringing voice. The drones broke off their attack and gathered at her feet obediently. She turned to Darkonda, who lay smoking on the grass where he had fallen.

"You!" she cried. "How dare you commandeer my troops for plans I am not told about? Break off your attack and return to the Fortress with me! We will deal with these Rangers later, when the time is right and I lead the attack!"

Andros looked at Darkonda. Darkonda glared back at Andros furiously. Then, unwilling to disobey his mistress, he levered himself up and climbed the hill to kneel at her feet.

"I ask forgiveness," he snarled, and came to stand next to her. She in turn ignored him, gazing out at the army of Power Rangers protecting the fallen Red Ranger.

"I don't know what sort of illusion this is," she murmured. "But be it sleight of hand or sleight of mind, we shall meet again!"

And with that she thrust her staff into the ground and vanished, taking the Quantrons and Darkonda with her. In a flash, the army of Rangers disappeared as well, leaving only one of each color behind. Cassie, Carlos, TJ and Ashley gathered around their friend who still lay on the grass before them.

"Are you alright?" Ashley asked. She took his arm to help him up, but he made no move to rise.

"I'm fine," he said quietly. "The holograms worked alright?"

"Like a charm." said TJ.

"Yeah, the Quantrons didn't know the difference." remarked Carlos.

Nodding, Andros took a deep breath, then sat up, brushing the dirt from his uniform. He picked up his Saber and held it for a silent moment-- then swore under his breath in a language he hoped the others did not understand.

"We didn't get the girl..." he muttered darkly, wondering what horrors she was going through at that moment. But his Cassie surprised him with a comforting hand.

"Andros," she admonished. "Darkonda never had the girl. Just after you left, the Police told us Katie had been found with her mother at a hotel in Nevada. This was all a trick-- Darkonda took advantage of the situation to lure you here and finish you once and for all."

He stared at her in disbelief. "You mean...she was never in danger?"

"No, never. Her mother just wanted to see her, and the courts had other ideas. It'll be up to her parents to figure things out between them, but she's perfectly safe with family now."

Andros took a moment to absorb it all. When it finally sank in, he released a huge breath and shook his head a little, sending a silent prayer of thanks to whatever gods governed the lives of little girls. Staring after Astronema and her followers, he allowed himself a moment of hope that he would see his sister again one day soon.