Legal Disclaimer: Saban owns them all. I own {sorta} this weird little alternate universe. This takes place after 'Prince of Darkness. Something Cassie thinks is drawn from Secret Vampire by L.J. Smith, and is used without permission. I thought it was fitting, though.

Silent War
by: Cynthia

"DECA controls everything on the ship," Karone walked her new team down a corridor. "She can see anything that goes on around here, she has eyes and ears all over." She motioned up to one of the cameras. "She can be turned off if you want privacy for something, though."

They paused at the head of a long row of doors. "These are the living quarters," Karone told them. Carlos, Ashley, Justin, and Cassie nodded. It had only been a few minutes since they had received their new powers, and Karone and Phantom were leading them around the ship telling them about it. It was a given they'd be staying here; it was the only chance they had to rescue T.J., Zordon, and stop the forces of evil.

Cassie tried not to stare at the Phantom as they walked. It wasn't easy, though, since he was walking right next to her! She hungered to talk with him, to find out what he was like, what his real name was! He said we need to talk, and I absolutely agree!

"You can figure out whose room is which by the bands on the door." Karone explained, pointing to the stripes on each door. There were seven stripes of red, pink, yellow, black, blue, silver, and purple, each in different combinations. "Your room is whichever one has your color on the top. For example, my room is this one." She touched the door that had the red band on top of the others.

The others glanced at the doors, figuring out which room was whose mentally. Cassie looked over at Phantom. "What about you?" She kept her voice level, sounding merely friendly, nothing more.

"That one there." He pointed to one at the far end, with no color bands at all. Cassie mentally winced at seeing that four other rooms were between the two of them, then felt like smacking herself. What was going on in her mind??

Karone cleared her throat. "You can move in later, we need to get back to the bridge so I can fill you in on the rest of what life's like out here in space. Believe me, it's like nothing you've ever had to deal with. You thought Divatox was a pain?" The Red Ranger snorted slightly. "Wait till you've had a taste of some of what Damien's capable of."

"Just who is Damien?" Carlos asked. "You've mentioned him, but I've never heard of him before now. I'm guessing he's evil."

"To say the least," Phantom agreed. "He's the son of Dark Spectre, the Supreme Overlord of evil, and is a major pain in all the areas that count. He and Karone have been fighting each other for years."

The Red Ranger shrugged. "I hate him." Her voice was quiet and calm, not one shred of unusual emotion in it. "His father has given me and my family nothing but trouble from the very beginning. Damien has been after me since we were both about five." She pushed back her left sleeve to reveal an angry scar that stretched from her wrist nearly to her elbow. "This is a legacy of my first encounter with Damien. I was five, so was he, I think. He wasn't much bigger than me." She grimaced slightly, then smiled. "You should see the one I gave him that day."

Everyone paled just a bit except the Phantom Ranger. Karone slipped her sleeve back down and turned around, heading to the bridge as the others followed. "Damien uses Quantrons to fight his battles, along with monsters." Her voice was clinical and sharp. "His trainer, Ecliptor, generally fights alongside of him. He's got a servant, Mordant, who doesn't do any fighting most of the time, he just hangs around and runs errands and things. His principal weapons are his sword and staff; the staff is what he uses to focus his magic with."

"What does he look like?" Cassie wondered. As they reached the bridge, Karone flicked a switch on the console, and an image of a tall young man in tight-fitting leather and metal armor, leaning casually back against a tree and observing as metal robotic creatures battled a morphed Karone.

"That's him." Phantom said unnecessarily. "The hair changes a lot, though. I've seen him in green, blue, purple, brown, stripes...even polka dots once! It's a fashion statement of his...a rather bad one in my opinion. But he always dresses like that, and his staff and sword are his two most identifying marks."

Karone smiled faintly. "That, and his attitude. If we ever run into him in a fight..." she clenched her fists. "He's mine!"

* * *
Damien slowly stroked the sharpening stone down the length of his blade, a faint smile touching his lips as he indulged in his favorite pastime. Mordant did quite a few things for his prince, but one thing he never did was lay a finger on the weapons. Those were Damien's, and Damien's alone.

"My prince." The deep voice came from the doorway and he was not surprised to see his tutor Ecliptor there. "Your father wishes to see you before you depart."

The young man was on his feet at once. "Of course, Ecliptor." He slipped the sword back into it's accustomed placed on his back, then turned to his old trainer. "Do you think Father is really going to let me go after the Red Ranger this time?" There was a hint of bloodthirstiness in his tone that almost disturbed the warrior.

"You heard his orders, Your Highness." Ecliptor told him as they headed to the bridge where Dark Spectre would appear to them. "You are to track down and destroy the Red Ranger and anyone who assists her."

Damien smiled, his eyes sparking with violet. He knew he was going to enjoy this mission. His first real mission, other than the occasional clash with the Red and Phantom Rangers. He took a long breath as he entered the bridge and saw his father just outside in all his magnificent lava-crusted glory.

"You summoned me, father?"

"Yes, my son," Dark Spectre was quite proud of the product of his liaison with a mortal human female all those years ago. Damien was a true and worthy heir, and the supreme monarch of evil was quite glad he had chosen to acknowledge him. "I trust you are ready to destroy the Red Ranger and all who have thrown their lot in with her?"

His son bowed. "I am, father. I will not fail you."

"I know you will not." Spectre trusted his offspring implicitly. Ecliptor had trained him not just in statecraft and warcraft, but in obedience and loyalty to his sire as well. "I look forward to the day when you will bring the head of the Red Ranger to me."

Damien bowed low. "It will be soon, father. Quite soon. I don't care how many allies she gathers about her, I will destroy her!"

"Do not waste your time in idle boasts," Specter admonished almost gently. "Simply perform your assigned task, and you will not be punished. Now go. Ecliptor, I give you the task of being my son's chief general and bodyguard."

Ecliptor bowed his head. "As you will, my liege." Silently he watched as Dark Spectre teleported away, and Damien seated himself in the command chair. Everything was ready. Everyone was ready.

Damien gave the command. "Seek and destroy the Astro Rangers. But the Red Ranger is mine."

* * *
Divatox was feeling very, very superior at the moment. Her conquest of the Power Rangers Turbo had been so sweet. She had destroyed their base, captured the two sentient cars, and T.J. was adjusting quite nicely to his new tasks. Now she had something else she had to take care of.

"Porto!" she shouted in her usual fashion as she kicked her way into her scientist's lab. "Are you awake, you ambulatory marshmallow??"

The genius shuffled in from one of the adjoining rooms, rubbing briefly at his porthole. "Yes, Divatox? What is it?"

She tossed him some thing small and light. "Even after what I did to the Power Chamber and what happened on Eltar, can you get that working again, and make more? I don't much care about the colors."

Porto examined the Turbo Key briefly. "Possibly. I'll have to find an alternate power source for them, however. But why? It's not our task to fight the Rangers anymore!"

His queen laughed softly, coldly. "I'm not interested in the Rangers. I've got bigger plans in mind." She put a very unfriendly arm around the scientist. "Just do it, Porto. I'll let you know why when I think you should know."

"Yes, my queen." Porto turned to his equipment, the Key still in hand, starting the examination at once. Divatox watched for a few moments, then headed out. The first thing she wanted to check on were two of her more interesting prisoners: Lightning Cruiser and Storm Blaster.

Chained down and with Piranatrons guarding them from every direction, the two cars strained and jerked as much as they could, obviously wanting away from here. One of Porto's other projects was a way to subdue these two wild creatures and break them to her will. Divatox watched for a few moments, then stepped out into the wide cell.

"Are you ready to give in and be my personal vehicles?" the pirate asked bluntly. She held no doubts that they would surrender to her power, beings mightier than they had given into to her. It might take them longer to realize she was the queen around here, but in time, it would happen.

The two cars didn't so much as turn their headlights in her direction. Divatox smiled frostily. "You will learn." She stepped closer to Lightning Cruiser and laid a hand on the crimson hood. "The way that my new stud learned. I think you knew him...his name is T.J."

Lightning Cruiser's engine revved in something that could've been a growl. Divatox only sneered. "Maybe I'll let him visit you...if he pleases me enough. Which reminds me. I really should go and check on him. I nearly wore him into cardiac arrest earlier."

With a cruel twist to her lips, she sauntered off towards her private quarters without another look back at the two cars. Lightning Cruiser and Storm Blaster exchanged brief glances that if they were translated into modern English, would have been simple, She is going to die.

* * *
Karone watched as Ashley and Carlos moved around one another in the practice ring she'd made on the Simudeck. Introducing that to them had been one of the highlights of the continued tour. Justin had nearly fallen over in shock as he realized that they could have anything he wanted in it, anything at all. It was every kid's dream come true. In many ways, it was every adult's dream come true.

I know I've used it for a few dreams of my own.

"Very good." She called out to the two fighters. "But you're going to have to get even better."

With a flick of her eyes to Phantom, the two of them headed into the practice area as the Yellow and Black Rangers left it. Each of them bowed briefly to the other, then leaped into a form of combat style that was completely unfamiliar to all the Earth-born Rangers, yet seemed so deadly it was incomprehensible how either of them survived the lightest of blows.

Cassie's eyes never left Phantom. Her heart thudded harder and harder in her chest as she observed the young man moving all around the area. I knew he could fight, but I never had any idea he could look so good doing it!

Carlos's attention flicked over to his Pink friend and he smiled faintly to himself. T.J. would be glad to know that she and he found each other. And we are going to find him too. He turned his attention back to the two fighters, and his jaw nearly dropped as Karone executed a maneuver that by every law of physics he knew should not have been possible. Whoa.... His heart skipped a beat when he saw that Karone didn't even have a hair out of place. She's beautiful...

"Are you going to teach us how to do that?" Justin stared, his eyes wide and round with surprise. He appreciated martial arts right down to the core of his being, having seen some of the best doing it for as far back as he could remember.

"Yes." The Red Ranger's reply was crisp and firm. "You're going to have to learn, sometimes those moves have been the only thing that kept me alive when I was on my own."

There was a nervous silence for just a moment, then Phantom broke it. "Cassie, would you and Justin please spar next? We need to get a feel for how the two of you fight. If we are to be a team, we must learn each other's strengths and weaknesses as fast as possible."

The Pink and Blue Rangers at once stepped up to the training section, as Karone and Phantom left it. Justin could tell there was something on Cassie's mind that was not really combat, but after knowing her for so many months, he knew she wasn't going to talk about it. Besides, he had a very serious idea of just what it was, or who it was going through her mind.

Over the last few months, the group of Earth-Rangers had learned quite a bit about each other's fighting moves, and Cassie had picked up a bit more than she had let on from some of the older Rangers. She and the former Green Ranger Adam had spent quite a bit of time together when they both had the time, and he had been training her fairly seriously in karate, enhancing the talent she already had and the few lessons she'd taken before becoming a Ranger into a deadly competence that many a Piranatron had learned of to their dismay.

Now, Justin and Cassie showed some of that skill to their new friends. Cassie had always held herself back, letting the 'guys' take center stage so far as physical activity was concerned. Somewhere in the back of her mind was the conviction that what she had done was wrong. She had never held back her full skills in battle, but she had made certain whatever she did was done where only she and her enemies could see it. Faint memories of being told by her father that she wasn't 'as good as a man' had also haunted her, inhibiting her abilities.

Cassie Chan was being haunted no more. She refused to be inhibited another moment. Holding back before the others had done nothing but bring about their defeat and the capture of someone she claimed as good friend. Cassie Chan, the Pink Astro Ranger, was holding back no more.

Justin knew he had about as much chance of winning this sparring session as he did of sprouting wings and flying. Cassie was still the same cheerful singer she'd always been: but now the song was one of victory.

In her favor, Cassie didn't hurt Justin at all as she laid him flat out on the ground. But she did rather neatly plop him there without so much as a scratch on his hide.

Carlos stared at his friend. "I had no idea you could do that!" was the first and only thing out of his mouth. Cassie looked over at him calmly.

"No one did except Adam. He taught me." She tossed her hair back briefly, her eyes landing on Phantom with a confidence newborn. "I could teach you."

There was no time for an answer to that, however, as a sudden alarm split the air. Karone glanced up to DECA's camera, and the artificial intelligence responded with, "Damien's Quantrons have been spotted outside the ship."

To save on fuel, the MegaShip had been parked on a quiet moon, hoping to remain out of sight of the Dark Fortress' sensors. Obviously that was a vain hope now. The Red Ranger looked at her companions. "Ready to fight?"

Ashley smiled grimly. "Do we have a choice?"

* * *
Divatox paused for a moment just outside her quarters, gazing at the figure inside. T.J. Johnson, her current stud, was sitting on the bed in the loincloth that was his official and only garment right now. He was adjusting quite nicely to his new role in life. You would never think that just a few short days earlier, he had been the proud leader of the Power Rangers, and her mortal enemy.

Now he's one of the finest pets I've ever had. She licked her lips in remembrance and anticipation. I know he dreams of escape... She considered placing another spell on him, one that would wipe away all those annoying memories of the past and reshape him into a perfect consort for herself. Then she shook her head. I want him the way he is. It wouldn't be the same to wake up next to him and see just unthinking acceptance. I much prefer...pleasure fading to horror and then back to pleasure when I touch him.

She stepped into the room, a faint smile on her lips as he turned around to see her. For a moment he had been at peace, then when he saw her approaching him, his by now habitual despair descended. "Hello." Was all he said to her as she came closer.

"Hello." Divatox laid a hand familiarly on his arm, and he winced away automatically. Her lips twitched; she was going to truly enjoy training that out of him. "Have you kept yourself busy since I left?" Since when she left he had been exhausted almost to the point of passing out, he just looked away. "Answer me."

He glanced back. "Yes." One word at a time was all she was generally able to get out of him. That would change; she had no doubt he would slowly get used to her. It wasn't as if he had any real choices, after all.

The pirate sat down next to him, wrapping one arm around him and pulling him closer to her. "I gave your Turbo Key to Porto." She told him. "In just a few weeks, I'm going to have my very own set of Turbo Rangers." Her gloves, and everything else, vanished off her as she ran a hand down his chest. "Porto is going to be developing more powers for me to give to my chosen ones." Her fingers stopped at a sensitive place. "If you please me enough, I just might let you be a Ranger again. My Ranger. My pet."

T.J. said nothing as she pushed him back onto the bed and knelt on top of him. He had learned quickly that protestations just led to things he would prefer not to have happen: such as chains, whips, and spells that commanded obedience from his body. She had never touched his mind, though. It wasn't that she couldn't, he knew that. She just...hadn't.

Divatox smiled as she ran her fingers caressingly across him. He was trembling almost too hard for her to do anything as she leaned closer to him. "Remember who owns you, T.J., body and soul and heart, for now and all time." Her lips traced a design across his body, and he bit back a moan of unwanted desire and pleasure. "Remember..."

"You...." he whispered, knowing she would torment him until he said it. "You do, mistress..."

Divatox smiled as she sank down closer to him. She was going to enjoy putting him through his paces..over and over again....until he was nothing but a husk.

Just like his predecessor.

* * *
Quantrons had only one good point to them above Piranatrons. They didn't smell like fish. The reek of oil, however, was something the new Astro Rangers were quite certain they'd learn to hate as much as they already detested the odor of fish from their time as Turbo Rangers.

"Do they have any weaknesses?" Carlos called out to Karone, watching in awe as she threw one of the things over her head and slammed it hard into a rock.

The Red Ranger shook her head. "You just hit them until they stop moving!" Actions followed words as she punched one of them in the chest and sent it flying back hard. "You can fight them unmorphed, but it's a lot harder." She smiled mentally as she saw Carlos, the black armor fitting tightly and smoothly around him, charging into the middle of the Quantron mess.

Sitting cross-legged on a rock above all the fighting was Damien, with Ecliptor behind him. "So these are the new Astro Rangers." The Dark Prince mused. "Are the reports correct?"

"As near as we can be certain, my prince." Ecliptor told him. "They are the former Turbo Rangers of Earth. Somehow they survived Divatox's attack."

Damien nodded. "And Karone gave them the spare powers." His eyes flicked over the group, showing not one whit of emotion. "Well, this should be amusing. A full team instead of just two to play around with."

He pulled his sword out slowly, examining it. "Ready for battle, Ecliptor?" His voice had dropped almost a full octave, becoming huskier and thicker with malice. There was nothing he liked better than to destroy Ranger in particular.

"As always, my prince." Ecliptor's own blade was in hand already, and his attention was on the Phantom Ranger. The two of them had a mutual antagonism that stretched back almost as far as Karone and Damien's. His eyes widened slightly as he saw his enemy going back to back with the new Pink Ranger. There was something in the way they fought together....the guardian shifted into mage-sight, and if it were possible, his jaw would've dropped. Well, well, well, so the Phantom Ranger has found his soulmate. This could be quite useful in future.

Damien hadn't even noticed his guardian's momentary distraction. With a wild cry of challenge, he leaped down towards the battle, Ecliptor only a bare moment behind him. The prince drew himself up proudly as he came face to face with the morphed Red Ranger. "I told you we would meet again, Karone."

"We always do, Damien." Karone faced him, her Spiral Saber in hand and her chest heaving slightly from exertion. Even being morphed, taking on all those Quantrons wasn't easy. But she was beginning to feel an influx of energy at the sight of her mortal enemy. "And we always will, until you are destroyed!"

Her enemy slowly stalked around her, and she turned to keep her eyes on him. "I see you've picked up some new friends. Are these going to suffer the same fate as the Silver Ranger, I wonder?" The malice in his voice was unmistakable.

"Leave the Silver Ranger out of this." Karone spoke flatly and coldly, raising her blade just a trifle. "If you're going to fight, let's fight."

Now, let's see here. Damien continued to circle around her, taunting her, as thoughts ran through his mind. I could get into another fight with her, while I happen to be severely outnumbered. Ecliptor and I are good. Better than they are one on one, that's a given. The Quantrons are already spare parts. Maybe I should look into getting better materials for them. But for now, the two of us are outnumbered, and if Karone decides she's had enough and brings in the MegaShip, that could get very painful. Not to mention I don't have full information on just what her new friends are capable of just yet. I'll have to talk with Divatox on that, and maybe her pet too.

His eyes flicked over to where Ecliptor was doing the same circling maneuver against Phantom that he was doing. There'll be time for a long battle later. He who fights without knowledge loses the fight. Damien stepped back from the Red Ranger. "You're not worth the effort today, Karone. But I shall return. And when I do, I will show no mercy."

Ecliptor nodded, his eyes still flicking from Phantom to Cassie. "Enjoy your time together." He half-whispered the words to Cassie, who was nearer to him at that moment than Phantom. "For it will be short."

The Rangers stared as their enemies, and the junk of the Quantrons, melted away in violet light. Karone took a long breath and demorphed. "I hate it when they show up and just threaten!"

* * *
T.J. wandered half-bemused down a hallway of the SpaceBase. He refused to think of it as his home, no matter what he was forced to do with Divatox. And despite the fact he had technically agreed to serve her, he still thought of himself as being forced. I had no choices in agreeing. It was either that or get killed.

He wondered what Divatox was doing. He knew Rita and Zedd were watching over Zordon for right now, but what Dark Spectre might have in mind for his 'queen' was a mystery to him. She had mentioned recreating the Turbo powers, but the thought of being her slave on the battlefield was even more nauseating than what he currently was going through.

At the very least, being her bed-partner is pleasurable. Disgusting, but pleasurable. He had never imagined he'd be getting his sexual education like this, and the very thought of spending the rest of his life in slavery to her made him want to throw up. But one thing he had learned was that sometimes, things are just meant to be. He did what he had to do, and kept the nattering voice of rising insanity at bay by dint of simply not thinking about things too hard.

"So you're the new one." The voice startled him more for the fact it was human and male than anything else. Standing not far from him was a tall Hispanic man, wearing the same type of loincloth he was, and with the same general air of resignation that he himself was feeling most of the time.

"Who are you?" T.J. wondered. Was this some cast-off of Divatox? A potential ally...or an enemy....

The other walked a little closer, holding his hand out in a friendly fashion. "Rocky DeSantos, ex-Ranger of Earth, and your predecessor in your 'new job'." His tone made a joke and mockery of the last two words, and as T.J. shook his hand, the other smiled. "You've got to be T.J. Johnson."

"Do I have to be?" T.J. chuckled lightly. "I don't think he's liking his life very much right now."

Rocky shrugged. "I'm not all that thrilled either with being here. But would you rather be dead?"

T.J. raised one eyebrow. "I'll get back to you on that. So what are you doing around here? I didn't think she'd let any of her, formers hang around."

"I was 'honored' with being made a regular servant. In the laundry section, to be accurate." Rocky led him around a corner to a small room. "This is my place. Not much, I know, but it's what I've got for now."

The two of them sat down, Rocky on the narrow bed and T.J. on the small chair in a corner. For several minutes they talked about various things, such as how T.J. had come to be there and what odds they had on escaping. That last bit was a rather short part of the conversation.

"So how did you come to enjoy such a life?" T.J.'s voice was heavy with sarcasm. Rocky leaned back, his eyes briefly darkened.

"I'll tell you some other time." He spoke the words almost flatly. "Right now, it still hurts." Rocky shivered just a little, and his hand drifted momentarily to a scar down the side of one cheek that T.J. hadn't even noticed until then.

Silence fell, broken at last by the shrill cry of Divatox. "T.J.!! Get in here!"

Rocky sighed. "You'd better go. She can get ....violent if you don't do what she wants." As T.J. got up, his new friend looked at him. "Whenever you need someone to talk to, I'll be here, T.J. And believe me, you are going to need someone to talk to."

"All right." The two of them exchanged grins, then T.J. left to serve their dark mistress. Rocky sighed as he shut the door behind him, and his fingers once again traced the scar across his cheek.

You will need someone, T.J. More than you can possibly imagine.

* * *
"Cassie?" Phantom looked at her as they walked down one of the MegaShip's corridors. One could hardly tell the mighty ship was sailing through space, but it was. Karone had decided they'd been at rest more than long enough, if Ecliptor and Damien had been able to find them, and they were all eager to get on with the search for Zordon.

She glanced up. "Oh, hi, Phantom." Something was quite obviously on her mind. He had followed her down the hallway; the others were in their quarters getting settled in. Karone was heading the ship back to Earth, the new teammembers needed to pick up civilian clothes and make other arrangements with their family members. "What's up?"

"I was about to ask you the same thing." Phantom looked at her. Since they had been reunited just that day, they hadn't had a chance to really talk about anything at all. "Cassie, do you want to talk? I mean...about us?"

There, he'd said it. The 'u' word. She looked at him for a moment, then smiled just a tiny bit. "I think I do. Where?"

"The Simudeck's always good," he shrugged. "We can put in some nice quiet place and"

It only took a few moments for them to get to the Simudeck and get situated. "Where do you want to talk at?" Phantom asked. "Anywhere is good for me."

Cassie considered several locations, then smiled. "Angel Grove Park in there anywhere?" She didn't think it would be; what reason could this futuristic place have for having something like that, something so earthbound and homey?

"Sure." Phantom touched a few buttons, and the door slid open to reveal a beautiful summer day at Angel Grove Park. "Shall we stroll through the park?" he smiled warmly at her, and she couldn't resist the urge to smile back. Together, the two of them entered the park.

* * *
Damien leaned back into his throne and considered the information he had just received. Divatox had proven to have a veritable wealth of knowledge about the new Rangers, or rather the old Earth Rangers who had taken themselves into space. The price I had to pay was extraordinary, though. Who would have thought she would be so fond of gold? But it was either that or a night with her. I'd rather bed a scorpion. I'd have higher odds of survival.

He paged through the information, pausing at the dossiers on Cassie Chan and Ashley Hammond. Interesting. Both of these have soulmate bonds. Cassie's was easiest to figure out; it was the Phantom Ranger. Ecliptor had told him of what he'd observed in the battle before. But Ashley's....Damien ran a finger down the picture and smiled. I don't know who it is, but she is meant for someone. He licked his lips. She was rather beautiful, in an earthly sort of way. His imagination provided him with an image of her in the same black and metal armor that he wore, and his smile broadened.

"Your Highness?" Mordant was in the doorway. "Your dinner is prepared."

"Good." Damien nodded. "Mordant, inform the Quantrons that the Yellow Astro Ranger is to be treated with care in our battles. I intend to have her, and I don't want her damaged...too severely."

The porcine creature bowed low. "Will you require a chamber prepared for her, my prince? And when will you be bringing her here?"

Damien shrugged. "I don't know yet. I want to take my time on this." He smiled darkly, looking again at the various representations of Ashley, in and out of her Turbo uniform, wearing clothing from Earth, and settle finally on a picture of her in a swimsuit that immediately became his favorite. "But once I have her, she won't need her own room. My intended consort will remain with me."

Mordant bowed again, then left. He had never seen his master have such an intense focus on anyone before, except the Red Ranger. But these were unusual circumstances, he supposed.

The Dark Prince leaned back, examining the rest of the information now. Knowing their weaknesses, it'll be child's play to create a tailor-made trap for them all. I'll let them have some time to get used to each the bond between the Pink Ranger and Phantom. It'll be easier to destroy them when they're close.

He ran a hand through his hair in thought, then got up. He had some changes to make to his chambers, in anticipation of the day when Ashley Hammond joined him in them. I do hope she struggles. I like it when they struggle.

* * *
"Karone and I have been partners for about ...two years now, really. She and I started to work together after the fall of KO-35. The Silver Ranger, her partner before that, was a strong warrior, and her closest ally. The two of them were..." he paused for a moment, obviously concerned about something, then continued. "They were very close. She doesn't like to talk about him, though. Don't ever ask her why he's not around. You won't like her answer." He shrugged. "She's confided just about everything in me. There's very little we don't know about each other."

Cassie nodded, hardly able to believe what was going on. She was just sitting here, having a conversation with the Phantom of her dreams as if they were old friends, instead of reunited former comrades. Or ... she didn't let herself keep on with that thought, as much as she wanted to. The two of them had yet to discuss the emotions between them, but those were flaring up with every glance they exchanged. They had intended to discuss how they felt, but Cassie suffered a sudden panic that he was going to tell her he only thought of her as a friend. She had managed to steer their conversation towards Karone instead, wanting to know more about their newest friend.

"So what's she like? I mean...if she's going to be our leader, I think we ought to know something." Cassie winced at the use of the word 'we' when it was just her and Phantom in the Simudeck. Around them was Angel Grove Park, as real as if they were actually there, right down to the sense of sunlight being on them.

Phantom nodded. "Well, she grew up on Phaedos and the colony of KO-35 with her brother Andros and their best friend Zhane. Well, Zhane did grow up with them until they were about three." He winced internally himself; he hadn't meant to say anything about the young boy. But Cassie deserved to know; his loss had helped shape Karone into what she was. Besides, he knew just what the Pink Ranger was trying to do, and he was every bit as nervous as she was, if not more so. If this gave them both some time to relax and get used to being around one another, then so be it.

"What happened then?" Cassie felt a sudden tingle in the back of her mind, as if she were about to find out something of earth-shattering importance.

The young man near her took a long breath. "When they were three years old, there was an explosion in Zhane's home one night. It killed his entire family. Him...his brother...two sisters and his parents. Andros and Karone took years to recover; the three of them practically shared a brain. Sometimes I'm not all that certain she did recover."

Cassie gasped. "That must've been horrible!"

"That's another reason you shouldn't mention the Silver Ranger to Karone. She's very sensitive about losing people she's close to. It's happened a lot. She hasn't let it darken her, but I think that's because there's always been someone there to fill the void. When she lost Zhane, her soulmate, she lost the ability to love anyone else forever. At least in the romantic sense. Andros was there for her then. When she lost the Silver Ranger, she came close to losing her ability to trust. I had to be there for her then, and that's why I had to leave Earth after you retrieved my Ruby for me."

The Phantom leveled his gaze at Cassie, then took her hand. It was time. "I didn't want to, though. I never wanted to leave you once I found you. Only my oath and my friendship with Karone made me leave. If I hadn't had her, I would've never left your side." Time seemed to stand still. "I love you, Cassie Chan of Earth, and I swear by the Power that I will never leave you again."

Cassie stared at him, her heart whirling in a melody of love. Something she had heard from somewhere rose up in her mind, perfect and fitting. You don't love someone because of their looks or knowledge or anything. You love them because they sing a song only you can understand...

She gazed at Phantom. It didn't matter that she didn't know what to call him other than 'Phantom'. It only mattered that she loved him, and he loved her, and they were meant for each other. "I love you too, Phantom Ranger. I will always love you."

* * *
Karone flipped a couple of switches and sighed. It had been one very exhausting day. She'd had to tangle with Damien twice, plus taking on a whole new team, and struggling with a sudden resurgence of memories.

As she sat, another flash pulled itself to the forefront of her mind. Her hands clutched at the seat, and she remembered....

"Zhane!" The little girl stared at the explosion in the house across the street, unable to believe the agony ripping into her soul. "No, Zhane, don't go!"

Her brother held her in his arms, both of them feeling the fading spark that was the connection to the boy that was friend and more to them both. He had been a part of them, he was them, and they were him, in a way that they had never thought could be broken, until now.

Their parents were standing by them, watching as the fire containment crews doused the blaze that the explosion had begun, and started to search through for survivors. Andros and Karone both knew the truth, however. They could feel it in their hearts and souls. Karone felt something dying inside of her, and crumpled against her brother. "Why, Andros?" the younger girl whispered. "Why him?"

"I don't know, Karone." He held her tightly, sensing the pain and heartache rising up in the girl. Young they were, but that night, in the fire and the disaster, Andros and Karone of KO-35 grew up.

Karone shuddered as she pulled her mind firmly back towards the presence. I've lived without Zhane for fourteen years, I can keep on living without him. It's not like I've got an option, anyway. He was my soulmate, the one I was meant for, and I can't ever truly be happy with anyone else. I might have friends, I might even fall in love someday, but it won't be like it it could've been with him.

She wiped the tears from her eyes quickly, then glanced up at DECA. "Keep scanning for any signs of danger or Zordon. Other than that, the usual stuff."

"Yes, Karone." DECA responded quietly. The Red Ranger had the feeling the computer approved of the new additions to the crew. Karone had to admit that it was good to feel more than just the presence of the Phantom around the ship.

He's happier too. He has Cassie. She hadn't missed the closeness the two of them shared from the moment they'd emerged from the Simudeck earlier that evening. Of course, the fact they had kissed in public was a giveaway too.

Quietly Karone made her way to her bedroom, changing into her night garments once the door slid shut behind her. She glanced out the window for a moment, and sighed. "Sleep well, Zhane, Andros. Maybe we'll all be together again someday."

She laid down, her eyes sliding shut. She could feel the warm minds of the others all around her; the peace of the ship was unbroken by the addition of the others. It felt right to have them there. Karone had always believed in destiny, and with them there, she sensed that the long silent war she'd fought against loneliness and pain was slowly drawing to an end.