Astronema, currently the chief of those minions, was seated in her usual throne-like chair, looking intently at the person perched in the seat across from her. "Are you certain you can pull this off?" she asked quietly, but eagerly. She had known this person for years, but had never had any idea of the history that had been revealed to her just now.
"Of course I can!" her companion proclaimed firmly, tossing back a wave of silver-blonde hair. "You know me, Astronema, do I ever say I can't do something if I can't?"
The Princess of Evil shook her head. One thing she knew about her friend, she always kept her promises, and she had never once over-stated her abilities. Indeed, she occasionally would understate them, to get an advantage over the competition or her enemies. "Why did you never tell me you knew him before, though?" she was curious over that, however.
"Because you never asked," she was dryly told. "I knew Andros a long time ago, before the attack on his world. He's probably forgotten me by now though," her lips curved wickedly. "I'm truly going to enjoy refreshing his memory."
Astronema chuckled; by the look in Shanra's eyes, she had some very interesting history with the Red Ranger. After the disastrous plan with the Blue Ranger, Astronema wanted something that would destroy the Rangers and the allies they'd come up with out of practically nowhere once and for all. Shanra was the perfect weapon to do that with. "They're currently in Earth orbit," she told the other woman. "I don't know how long they're planning to stay there, though. They're going to be looking for Zordon again," her voice held a sneer; she knew they would never find the ancient mentor that Dark Spectre was holding. She would see to that herself.
"I'll work quickly," Shanra nodded. "Besides, I should be able to get them to take me with them," her eyes sparkled wickedly. "And once I'm on board, it should be child's play for me to destroy them."
"Do you have anything specific in mind yet?" the violet-haired vixen wondered. Shanra shook her head, she had always preferred making her plans as she went along. It was easier to change them if something came up like that. "Are you going to need anything from me, then?" was Astronema's next question.
Shanra frowned for a moment, thinking over the first stages of her plans. "I might," she said finally. "I don't want to arouse any suspicion, however, so we can't meet openly. I'll come here if I have to get anything from you. I don't think I need anything right now. I've got all I need to get introduced to them, and once that's done, it'll be child's play for me to figure out how best to destroy them."
Astronema smiled wickedly. "You might want to concentrate your attentions on Andros and the Yellow Ranger, Ashley. I've noticed that they're very close to one another, and that could be a weak link. Use it."
"Excellent," Shanra nodded, her smile widening just the tiniest bit. The expression didn't seem to be very pleased; it seemed as if it would be far more appropriate on the face of a shark. And that was just what Shanra was known as in the galactic villain circuit: the Shark.
Lightning Cruiser was in the ship's docking bay, and was in full rapport with T.J., deeper than they had ever been before. It almost seemed as if they were telepathically linked somehow, though the Cruiser couldn't and didn't speak in human words. But the Blue Ranger always knew what his friend wanted.
Storm Blaster and Justin were on Earth, and came up to visit every now and then, as they had for T.J.'s birthday party. The connection between them hadn't changed a bit, nor had the friendship the former Ranger held for his friends. In fact, it had only grown stronger in the last few days.
Tommy Oliver was leaning back in a chair, browsing through the latest edition of his favorite martial arts magazine. He was the only one of them to be wearing civilian clothes on board, since everyone else had their shipboard uniforms, and he somehow managed not to look out of place doing it. His long hair was pulled back into the ponytail he'd been wearing for the last few years, and every now and then, he looked up to gaze through a porthole at Earth spinning beneath them. He knew he was going to have to make a decision soon.
Should I stay here with them or stay on Earth? It wasn't an easy choice to make. He'd originally stayed up there the first few days because of safety reasons, not wanting to get attacked by Astronema if she wanted revenge. But with no sign of her in the last week, he was beginning to wonder if she would bother. It certainly seemed to be safe to return. But he wasn't certain if he wanted to. He had good friends here, and the thought of Zordon being in the clutches of evil made him more and more inclined to stay. He never gave up on me. I'm not going to sit by and let Dark Spectre and Astronema keep him.
He glanced around for a moment at T.J., Carlos, and Cassie, the only others there with him right then. Ashley and Andros were down on Earth together. Kind of funny. I always thought Ashley and Carlos were going to make a couple out of it, especially since they were so close at the birthday party. He shrugged mentally. From what he'd seen, Andros didn't like much physical closeness, so that could simply have been convenience, and the Yellow and Black Rangers were good friends.
"Is it always this quiet?" he asked, more or less to break the almost tomb-like quality of the ship. All three of the others jumped, not having expected to hear a voice out of almost nowhere. T.J. had been playing with something or other at one of the stations, Carlos had been knocking his soccer ball back and forth a little, and Cassie had her guitar in her hands, strumming softly.
The Pink Ranger smiled faintly. "If we're not fighting something, usually it is," she told him. "It's kind of a nice switch, actually."
Tommy nodded; these Rangers' lives were very different from what he'd known on Earth. During their 'down-time' they were usually together on the MegaShip anyway, which seemed to make for even closer friendships than the ones he had shared with all his various teammates. "So what do you guys do for fun around here anyway?" he wondered, feeling a sudden urge to get up and do something instead of just sitting there.
T.J. glanced first at him, then to the others. Almost identical grins spread across three faces, and the Blue Ranger looked back at him. "You mean, we haven't shown you the Simudeck yet?"
Carlos almost giggled at the bewilderment on his face. "Guess not! Come on, you're going to love it!"
Tommy found himself being dragged along the hallways, and couldn't help but wonder, with a smile, just what he had gotten himself into.
Ashley loved it, and she loved the company she was with even more. It had taken her almost six weeks to get the courage up to ask Andros out anywhere, and even now it was just to the Surf Spot, a place they had gone many, many times before with the others.
I can't believe I'm here with him alone, at last, she smiled to herself over her drink, looking at him as he watched the antics of Bulk and Skull, once again off on one of their trips to discover 'aliens' with Professor Phenomenous. I thought for sure he was going to say no. But he didn't.
She had felt a connection to him, a strong liking that had only grown more and more ever since she had first met him. When he had first demorphed and she had seen not only that he was human, but absolutely gorgeous, she had thought her eyes were going to fall out of her head. That first night on the MegaShip, Cassie had pestered her endlessly to tell why she was so distracted. She hadn't then, and she really hadn't now. Now, she just gazed at him from across the table, trying not to stare so hard that he noticed. She was glad Astronema hadn't been heard from recently. She could use the time to try and relax her friend and leader some more.
Andros could almost feel Ashley's eyes on him, but didn't move or indicate he had. He knew if he did, she would feel ashamed and scared and upset at having made him nervous, or so she would think. But for her to look at him didn't make him nervous, at least not in the sense she was thinking. No more than having a beautiful girl that he liked a lot look at him would make him nervous.
I'm glad she asked me. ..I was trying to work up the nerve to ask her out, he kept most of his mind on Ashley and the dawning relationship they were having, with the rest of it occupied watching the three Earthlings he had come to think of as permanent comedy relief bumbling around the Surf Spot. If they only knew, he chuckled mentally. Aliens. ..at least those not born on Earth. ..were far closer than they thought.
Without moving his head, his eyes slid back a little to look at Ashley. She was looking down into her drink now, and he caught a splendid view of the curve of her neck. He managed to keep his hormones under control; after all, they were in public, and this was their first date, if you even wanted to call it that. But he did acknowledge the fact to himself that she was the most beautiful person in the universe to him.
Even more so than Shanra, he remembered the other woman with a feeling that was both sweet tenderness and something akin to murderous rage. Over the past two years, he had never been able to decide just what it was he felt for her. His fists clenched momentarily, remembering the one place and the one thing that would always draw up the rage.
"Andros?" the sound of Ashley's voice drew him back quickly, and he smiled at her. "Are you okay, you looked kind of upset about something for a minute."
He shook his head. "I'm fine. Just thinking about something, it's not important."
Ashley nodded. "So. . .um. ..do you want to go for a walk?"
"That would be nice," Andros stood up, tossing some of the Earth money he had with him down to pay for their drinks. While his friends had been in school, he had earned 'spending cash' doing odd jobs around the mall and the town. He learned more about Earth culture that way, and he just liked being out off the MegaShip at times. It had been his home for a while, but at the same time, it could get rather stuffy there.
"Ecliptor, see to it that I am not disturbed," she instructed, rising and walking towards her personal chambers. Except for the eternal Quantron guards, the two of them were the only ones on the Dark Fortress at the moment. She'd given Elgar some time off, unable to stand his idiocy another moment, and the last she had heard, he was going to visit his aunt Divatox.
Her bodyguard and chief henchman nodded. "As you command, Princess."
Ecliptor watched as she shut the door behind her, and tried not to worry about her. He had seen the exhaustion on her face, and it concerned him. If anything was wrong, he reassured himself, Astronema would know about it and would deal with it.
In her chamber, Astronema quickly divested herself of her customary armor-like clothing and relaxed into a silken gown of sable black. For a moment she stared at the closet where she kept what clothing she had. Black. Nothing but black. I'm in a rut, she thought almost sadly. Her lips twitched as she imagined herself appearing at the next villians' conference in an outfit of pink and purple. That would definitely be a fashion statement.
Almost laughing, or at least chuckling, she laid down, unable to stand another moment. She had barely had her eyes closed for a full minute before she was wrapped in the deepest of dreams, dreams that came from the part of the subconscious that is also memory and foreknowledge and something that is some mixture of both.
The park was beautiful, beyond beautiful, with spring grass and flowers and warm sunlight to banish the last of the winter away. The sounds of the city surrounding the area were only faintly audible to the two young children playing in it.
One, a boy with streaked blonde and brown hair, was tossing around a ball with his sister. They were twins, they were always together, and had been from the moment of their birth, though he was the elder by only a few minutes. Together, the two of them were developing their telekinesis skills as was the custom on their world, and there was nothing but peace and contentment between them.
Then the ball bounced away, and the boy ran to get it. The girl watched him go, her only thoughts focusing on how much nicer spring was than summer. A sound from behind her caused her to turn, and she screamed at the sight of the hideous monster running towards her. She wanted to run, but something about the sight of it froze her where she stood. Then it grabbed her and they were leaving the park, leaving her brother!! She screamed over and over, arms reaching out for him, wanting away, wanting to be back with her family!!
But she was not taken back.
Carlos grinned; he'd programmed the Simudeck to imitate the hereditary hangout of the Power Rangers almost perfectly. "There's also a program in here for that new place, the Surf Spot."
The former Ranger nodded; he'd been there a few times, but he preferred the Youth Center, despite being almost twenty. It had a very special meaning for him, in many different ways.
He moved to the left a little, and Carlos, T.J., and Cassie could plainly see the faint look of nostalgia on his face. Unknown to them, he was standing precisely where he had been when he had first seen Kim, Jason, Zack, Billy, and Trini for the very first time so many years earlier. A thousand memories poured through his mind at the sight, of being with his friends, all his friends throughout the years, of all the enemies they had fought and all that they had done.
In that moment, Tommy Oliver knew what he was going to do. There was no more having to think about it. It had been right for him to step down when he had. He might never be a Power Ranger again, but to be with them, to be among them, was what he had been born for. If they would have him, he knew he would stay among them. His uncle wouldn't be all that happy, but he knew that he would be the first to urge Tommy to follow his heart and his dreams.
"Rangers, there is a message coming in from an approaching vessel," DECA's voice was calm and unhurried, and it broke through the half-trance of memory Tommy was in. He caught at once Cassie's hopeful eyes, and wondered what had caused it.
"Who is it from, DECA?" Carlos asked. It probably wasn't Astronema, she never contacted them like this, but who else knew they were even there? The Phantom Ranger? he knew that had to be what and who Cassie was hoping it was.
"Shanra Delise," the reply came, and they all glanced at each other, none of them recognizing the name.
T.J. took the lead. "We're coming to the bridge, have the call put on hold till we get there."
"Yes, T.J.," DECA replied obediently.
In varying levels of confusion, the four young people headed for the bridge, trying to figure out just who this `Shanra Delise' could possibly be. Their questions weren't even answered when they arrived on the bridge, either. "Call on screen, DECA," T.J. was in nominal command while Andros was gone, and the position seemed to suit him just as much or more than being the leader during their Turbo days had. Tommy was struck by a sudden sense of pure pride in this young man.
A woman appeared on the screen, on the bridge of her own ship. Her hair was a brilliant silver-blonde and her eyes the deepest shade of azure that any of them had ever seen. "Greetings," her voice was even more pleasing than her appearance was. "Might I assume I have the pleasure of addressing the newest team of Space Rangers?"
"Yes, most of us," T.J. replied carefully. "How can we help you?"
She smiled. "I am Shanra Delise. Is Andros on board at this time? He and I have some old times to catch up on."
"We'd better be getting back to the MegaShip," she heard him say, and winced inwardly. Guess relaxation time is over with. "We have to be leaving soon."
"Yeah," she nodded, knowing he was right. "You never know what Astronema will try next."
Though her words were true, Andros couldn't help feeling as if she wanted to be saying something else. He looked over at her, and smiled, just the faintest and briefest of expressions. He wished he knew the precise feelings he was having for her. He knew he thought she was beautiful, kind, and all the other magnificent words that flowed through his mind every time he even looked at her. But was it love? That was something he didn't know.
The last time he'd thought he'd been in love, it had ended rather tragically. He steeled himself not to think about it. Shanra was a long way away, and he would never see her again. He could make a fresh start with Ashley, he hoped. If nothing interfered. ..if she didn't get irritated by the way he knew he kept drawing away from them all still. . .
He paused and glanced around, glad to see no one else was there. "Ashley," he looked at her for a moment. "Would you. ..like to meet me. .for dinner at the Simudeck tonight?" he almost rushed the words out, fearing if he didn't there would be no further chances to say the words.
The Yellow Ranger flushed slightly red at the request, then smiled. "I'd love to," she murmured. "Seven o'clock?"
"Sure," he opened up his communimorpher and tapped the code for teleportation in, his eyes all on Ashley as the two of them dissolved away into red and yellow light. The next thing he saw was the bridge, and someone on the main screen that caused the Red Ranger to go pale.
Shanra smiled at him. "Hello there, Andros. Long time no see."
"What are you doing in this sector, Shanra?" Andros kept his voice calm, acutely aware both of Ashley's presence and those of the other rangers and their guest. "I thought you had left, permanently."
She shrugged. "I came back. I heard you were working with a team from Earth, and I thought I'd drop by and see what's going on with you. It's been what. .. a year and a half since we last saw each other?"
"Something like that," Andros nodded. "Quite frankly, I could go another couple of years without seeing you again."
"You knew I'd turn up," Shanra retorted. "It's not that easy to get rid of me."
Ashley cleared her throat a little. "Who is your friend, Andros?" it was obvious from the edge to her voice she was very interested in who this could be. Andros opened his mouth to reply, when Shanra cut him off.
"With your permission, I'll be docking my vessel with your ship. I would like to meet all your new friends in person," the young woman interjected smoothly. "And I'm very eager to see you again."
A smile spread across her face that, despite it's warmth, sent chills of fear down Ashley's spine as Andros started to guide Shanra's vessel to the docking bay. She glanced up at the touch of a hand on her shoulder, and saw Tommy there. He said nothing, only smiled warmly at her, something that made her feel much better than Shanra's did. With a heart that still trembled, however, she followed the others along to the docking bay to meet this new person who plainly knew Andros better than she did, quite probably in ways that she had barely dreamed of.
"All right," Andros' voice was tight. "Come on board."
And that other one, he wore gray and green, an attractive combination, and he looked older than all of them, though not by much. Remembering what Astronema had told her, he was probably that former Ranger, Tommy something-or-other. He is most DEFINITELY high on my potential list.
Shanra ran her fingers through her hair, settling it into the most pleasing configuration she knew. It had been some time since she'd seen Andros, and she wanted to make a very good impression on him and all his male friends, while getting the female ones as angry and upset as she possibly could. That sort of thing was just one of what she specialized in. It was amazing how easy it could be to destroy an entire team just by focusing her attention on one of them.
This should be an easier job than most, she mused, I've already got one hook into Andros, and getting any of the others I want should be pure child's play. I'll bet anything that none of them have ever had a woman before. Her lips quirked at the thought of that, and pondered altering it during her visit. All the different combinations she could have with them floated through her mind, and she chuckled to herself. I'll just have to see how well they respond to me.
A beep from the console alerted her to having docked fully, and she stood up, arranging her outfit properly. Glancing down at it, her lips twitched even more, almost coming to a smile. With a flick of a hand, she morphed her ordinary outfit into a shipboard uniform just like theirs, with an undershirt of white. I believe I read somewhere that white is the color of purity on Earth. A nice mocking touch, I do believe.
As the door slid back and the ramp extended to give her passage into the MegaShip, she tossed her hair back and strode down it as if she were a queen come to take command of her new home. If all went well, then she would be doing so soon. She had no doubts that things would be going well, either.
"Welcome to the MegaShip," Andros' words were formal, almost ritualistic, and she smiled, noticing the sparks of jealousy forming in the Yellow Ranger's eyes as she watched her leader greeting her.
"It's good to be back here," Shanra purred, her voice pitched just this side of exotic and sexy. "I should have returned sooner."
Andros shook his head, keeping everything he was feeling buried, not wanting to show even the tiniest hint of weakness at this moment, not in front of the others. "I'm certain you had your own things to take care of. What brings you back here now?"
"Traveling, and as I said, wanting to meet your new friends," she glanced over them all, unable to conceal the slightest of nods. Thankfully it seemed to be merely taken as a greeting gesture, as some of them returned it. "I am Shanra Delise, Rangers of Earth. Andros and I spent several months together some time ago," she smiled. "We were. .and are. . .very close."
Andros stepped forward. "Let me introduce you," he almost gritted the words out, motioning to his friends. "This is T.J., Tommy, Carlos, Cassie, and Ashley. Guys, this is Shanra Delise."
"Nice to meet you," or various forms thereof were uttered, and Shanra's eyes met Ashley's. For a moment, the two of them stood looking at each other, eye to eye. Something odd happened then, something that had never happened to Shanra in any confrontation like this before, and she had went through many of them.
Shanra looked away first.
Slowly she moved over to the window and stared out at the stars circling by. The Dark Fortress was currently orbiting Mars, close enough to Earth to attack the Rangers if necessary, and far enough away so that it wouldn't be casually detected, since it was hidden by the planet itself. Her fingers touched the necklace about her throat gingerly, and she glanced down to open it.
Two small faces looked back at her. One was herself as a child, she knew. The other was a boy she could barely remember, or comprehend as an adult as she was now. She knew that was her twin brother. His name she didn't know, this was all she had to remember him and her family by.
Her fingers clenched as she looked at it. Ecliptor told me he doesn't know who my family was. Or is. Or whatever. He just found me and raised me. Who are you, brother? Where are you, what are you doing? Do you know I live still? Or do you think I'm dead?
Questions, a thousand more questions, raged through her mind, in a pattern and fashion grown old through repetition over the years. In the typical fashion of the adopted or abandoned child, she wondered who she was and where she had come from.
With an effort of will, she tore herself away from memories of the past, and headed for the cleansing waters of her private shower. Once she had bathed and changed into her customary armor, she would feel much better, less inclined towards thinking of things that she couldn't change or find, such as her past and her family. Whoever she might have been, she was now Astronema, Princess of Darkness and Evil, right hand to Dark Spectre and in charge of destroying the Power Rangers and making certain they never rescued or even drew close to Zordon.
With that, she remembered Shanra, and wondered if the other woman had ever made it safely onto the MegaShip. Once she had combed out her hair and altered it into a long curly blond style, she marched into the main chamber snapping orders to Ecliptor. "Find out if Shanra is on the MegaShip, but don't do anything if she has or hasn't. I just want to know, and keep me informed if she leaves."
"As you wish, Astronema," Ecliptor bowed and marched away. She glanced after him for a moment, wondering if he had told her the truth. Did he know who she was and just hadn't told her? No, that was silly. Ecliptor would never lie to her. He was more than her mentor, he was her guide and her friend, the only being she truly trusted. If she tried to question that, then she questioned everything that made her what she was.
She took her seat and glanced down at the miniatures on the gameboard before her. Often she toyed with them, using them to plot out battles, which never seemed to quite go as planned. It truly mattered little however. Despite not destroying the Rangers, she had also kept them distracted and away from Zordon, more or less pinned down to Earth, though they did get out into the universe every now and then. That was more than satisfactory.
"So, how do you two know each other?" Tommy asked casually, being careful to place himself in between Shanra and Ashley. He had seen jealousy before, and it was no prettier in space than it had been on Earth. Something about Shanra just wasn't rubbing him the right way.
Andros shrugged. "We met a little over two years ago. Ran across each other in a bar somewhere in Sector 12-95 I think it was.'
"12-96, actually," Shanra corrected him primly. "Someone insulted my honor there and Andros was nice enough to take up for me."
The other Rangers could almost hear Ashley's teeth grinding suddenly. Andros quickly set out to fix things. "Someone tried to accuse her of cheating at cards, and I said she wasn't."
"You were so brave," the newcomer almost oozed over Andros, and Carlos put a hand on Ashley's shoulder, more to hold her back than anything else. Shanra continued. "After that, he invited me to stay with him on the MegaShip for a while. I didn't have anywhere else to go, so I took him up on it."
Andros was already flushing, and this just made him even redder. "I was only being friendly," he was sincerely hoping that the rest of the story wouldn't come out. The feelings he'd had for Shanra had changed dramatically since last he'd seen her, and he was still trying to work them out, especially when they were being thrown out of whack by her being in front of him again.
"Of course you were," Shanra said, taking his hand. "I was wondering, my dear, would you happen to have time to be friendly again with me? Very friendly, just like in the old days?"
Her hand slid up his arm to his collar and starting to go down his shirt. Ashley stared at the two of them for a moment, Andros too shocked and horrified to even move, then leaped up from where she had been sitting and ran out of the room. It was impossible to slam a door on the MegaShip, but she was obviously doing her best as the entrance to her room slid and clicked shut with an ominous sound.
Shanra raised one eyebrow. "Did I say something wrong?" her voice was pure innocence as she continued to slide her hand down Andros' shirt, in pure defiance of the fact there were several other people there.
Andros did more than know they were there. He stood up, pushing her away from him sharply. "Shanra, I don't know what you thought you were doing, but get your hands off me and get off this ship!"
"What?" she gazed at him with those crystal blue eyes that had once seemed so fascinating. "Did I do something wrong?"
"Yeah," he was literally glaring at her. "You tried to start something that died eighteen months ago. Or did you forget why I told you to leave in the first place?"
For a moment, she stared back at him. They both knew what he was talking about, but Shanra had had no idea, not even when it had happened, of what that meant to him. Then, a slow smile curved her lips. "You'll see me again," she almost purred the words out, looking from Tommy to Carlos. "When you least expect it."
Her eyes lifted to the hallway Ashley had gone down, and the smile went just the tiniest bit cruel. "Believe me, little Rangers. . .I'm not yet finished with you all," in a flash of crystalline light, she was gone.
Cassie slowly stood up, looking at Andros. "Think you could explain things a bit more?" she asked quietly. "Because I, for one, am very confused!"
Andros stretched, opening his eyes, and smiling as he hadn't in years. Except for the lingering ache in his heart, one he knew would never cease until he found Karone, he was perfectly at peace.
Why shouldn't he be? He had his best friend, he had his girlfriend, and he and Zhane were the protectors of KO-35. There was no way anything could ever possibly go wrong with his life.
A soft nuzzle on his chest caused his smile to widen as he looked down into the cerulean eyes of Shanra Delise. "Good morning," he smiled. "I didn't expect you to be awake yet."
"Why shouldn't I be?" her voice was muted, just the triflest bit of weariness still in it. "We only fell asleep," she lifted one eye to look at the chronometer beside his bed. "Four hours ago. You should still be asleep."
He chuckled. "I'm used to odd hours like this," he reminded her, starting to move her arm away from him. "Zhane and I have fighting practice this morning, I've got to get up."
"Well, if you're already awake," Shanra reached out for him, her hands sliding under the blankets. "Why waste it fighting?"
He groaned as she began to demonstrate the things that made her so very special to him. The Red Ranger was going to protest that he had to get up and be on the practice field before his partner was, but all thoughts of doing so vanished totally out of his mind as she kept going. Soon all he could do was wrap his arms around her and participate thoroughly.
Almost an hour later, he finally managed to squirm his way out of bed and into the shower, leaving her fast asleep behind him again. The two of them had been lovers for almost a month now, and had met a month before that. Andros wondered if she would ever get around to telling him what she had done for a living before hooking up with him. Then again, as he watched her sleep in his bed, he realized that he really didn't care.
Almost whistling, he headed down the corridor to where Zhane was waiting for him. As he reached the practice room, Zhane was already there, pacing and looking worried.
"What's wrong?" Andros didn't even bother with the traditional greeting they'd worked out with each other over years of being friends. "Zhane?"
"You were with her again, weren't you?" the Silver Ranger's face was concerned under his mop of blonde hair.
"What? With Shanra? She's my girlfriend, why wouldn't I be with her?" Andros didn't know what was going on; Zhane had always seemed to like Shanra before! He barely noticed Zhane was holding something in one hand: a folder.
His friend came over to him. "I was browsing through the files last night," he said quietly, holding up the folder. "I swear to you I was not checking up on her, you know me better than that. I was just looking to see if they had any new information on Dark Spectre's latest attacks, you know they're getting tougher lately."
Andros took the folder, almost watching his fingers moving without giving them any instructions whatsoever. Zhane watched nervously as his friend started to page through, growing paler and paler with every movement. He hadn't wanted to show this to Andros, but as he'd learned more and more, he'd realized it was for the safety of their planet that he did so.
Andros couldn't believe his eyes. Couldn't believe what he was seeing. Images, hundreds of them, of Shanra calmly meeting, associating, and otherwise being with Dark Spectre, Astronema, Ecliptor, and several other beings of evil he didn't recognize, but their dark taint was plainly obvious to him. The brief history that was included made him nauseous, as he read of her being an intergalactic spy, assassin, seducer, and quite a few other things.
"Andros?" both he and Zhane turned around to see Shanra standing in the doorway, one eyebrow raised and garbed in a nearly transparent outfit. Andros suddenly had the urge to go bathe for roughly a month or so. "Andros, is something----" her voice broke off as she saw the folder, and a picture that was sticking out of it. Later Andros realized it was of her with her arms around Dark Spectre in a very intimate embrace.
"Get off my planet," he growled. "I'd rather die than look at you again."
She smiled, and it wasn't her usual smile. This was the expression of a shark, and he recalled ludicrously that was her nickname, Shanra the Shark. "I'll be back, Andros. You'll see me again someday. . .just when you least expect it."
As she turned and left, Zhane touched Andros' shoulder. "Think we should call Kinwon and the authorities?"
"No," he said softly, brokenly. "Just let her go, Zhane. Just let her go."
"That was one of the worst decisions I ever made," Andros said quietly. "She showed up about six months later. She swore to me that she had changed, that she had reformed. We were together for only a week then, when she proved that she hadn't changed. She was still what she had been before. . .and worse."
T.J. leaned over to his friend quietly. "What do you mean?"
The Red Ranger closed his eyes for a moment, wishing that Shanra had just stayed far away from him so he could have kept this secret somewhat longer. Perhaps he didn't have to tell them everything, though. "She. . .proved in a way I'd rather not talk about. . .that she was still working for Dark Spectre."
"So why did you let her on board today?" Tommy wondered, trying to keep his voice calm. He had been looking down the hallway, considering going after Ashley, almost since the story had begun.
Andros sighed. "Because I hoped she had changed. And I was hoping I could arrest her this time if she hadn't. ..but I couldn't. I don't think I ever could. ..she's wanted for so much, but I could never bring myself to so much as raise my hand to her. I never have been able to. I freeze up when she touches me, I have ever since I found out what she really is. It's like. . .my body remembers what it was like when we first were together, and regardless of what my mind wants, my body. .reacts. And because of that, Ashley probably hates me now."
Tommy glanced back down the hallway, then over to his new friends. He thought for a moment. There was someone he knew he might be able to help. The two of them had talked their differences out a long time earlier, and had come to the conclusion of being good friends. There was an experience that might do well to help Ashley. ..
"Andros," he said quietly. "Could I. ..bring a friend here? Just for a little while, someone to talk with Ashley and maybe help her understand things?"
The Red Ranger shrugged a little, obviously caring little at the moment for anything beyond his memories. "All right. Just tell DECA what you need."
Tommy glanced up at the little camera. "DECA, teleport me to Miami, Florida."
She's probably his girlfriend or something. He was just playing with me, she hissed mentally at the very thought of it. He didn't care about me. He was probably going to treat me to a graphic description of their times together at dinner!
She sat up, looking at something she'd been treasuring for the past few weeks: a picture of all five of the Rangers. Her fingers trembled as she stared at how she and Andros were standing next to each other, arms all around each other. I was just a stupid idiot! She's been everywhere and seen everything with him, and I don't know ANYTHING! I'm just a kid from Earth. .he probably just thinks of me as a teammate. ..nothing else. ..
The Yellow Ranger tried not to think about it, but the sight she had seen kept repeating itself over and over in her mind, with more details of what had probably happened next as Andros had bid everyone else farewell and carried Shanra to his quarters, where they would. ...
"No!" she almost shouted it, throwing the picture to the far side of the room and curling herself up on the bed, tears she'd thought had dried falling faster and faster, harder and harder. Why couldn't I have fallen in love with someone who actually loved me back?
Lifting her tear-streaked face, she looked out the single porthole that was a window to her room, and saw the Earth beneath her. Why didn't I stay there when I could have? Even as she had thought that, she knew the reason. No matter what her personal life was like, horrible or blissful, she knew she couldn't have let anyone remain in the clutches of evil, especially like the practically legendary Zordon.
She sighed, curling up around a pillow and staring, lifting her eyes as much as she could to the stars that appeared faintly beyond the planet that had given birth to her. This is my home now, she thought, the tears slowly fading. As much as my leader, and her voice held only sarcasm, is a lying bastard who should be shot, this is still my home. I belong here now.
Ashley knew she wouldn't ever be able to truly fit in on Earth again. None of them could. How could you when you had traveled the stars? Interstellar space was her home now, and would be until the end of her life. She leaned back, her eyes closing softly. I don't ever want to talk to Andros again, she thought quietly as she began to drift into a deep, cleansing, sleep.
If she had remained awake, she might have been even more terrified than she was angry. Hovering just outside the window was a pair of eyes, as blue as Earth's skies. A soft, unnaturally calm voice spoke words that could very well have paralyzed her with fear.
"You'll see me again, Ashley Hammond. And you're going to hate me when you do," Shanra purred. "More than you could ever possibly imagine. And when you see me. . .I will be the last thing you ever see!"
She laughed silently, then vanished, leaving nothing more than the spectral echo of her laugh behind.
"She's still in there?" the question wasn't really a question from Cassie, who paused to look at the yellow-banded door herself. T.J. nodded quietly, and the Pink Ranger sighed briefly. She wanted more than anything to go inside and offer some form of comfort, no matter how small, to her friend, but everything she thought of to say seemed flat and hollow.
The Blue Ranger looked at her for a moment, another question popping into his head in lieu of anything else to say that could possibly be comforting. "Cassie. .. can I talk to you for a second?"
"Sure," his friend smiled for a moment and gestured for him to follow her down the hall to her room, where they wouldn't be quite so obvious in case Ashley opened her door for some reason. "What's up?"
He almost shuddered for a moment, then everything he'd been planning on saying went even more out of his mind as he caught a glimpse of a small device on one of her shelves. It took him a second to realize why his mind had just went blank, then he remembered. That's the message that Phantom Ranger sent us. Sent her. He had the sudden urge to wipe his eyes.
The other teenager shook himself at the sound of her voice, and sighed. "You love him don't you?" he finally said, looking at her. "You're in love with the Phantom Ranger?" every particle of his soul wanted her to say that she wasn't. . .but every particle of his soul also knew what she was going to say.
Cassie glanced at the device, and a smile flickered across her face. "Yes," her voice was simple. "I don't know why, it's not logical. . .," her lips twitched a little. "But who said love was logical, right?"
He had to laugh. It was either that or go insane. "Yeah. But. ..how can you love someone who you hardly know?"
She didn't look at him, but rather at the device, then out the window. Several moments of silence passed, and he waited for her answer. "It isn't easy. But it isn't something you can fight either," her voice was far more serious than he had ever heard it before. "I tried. I wanted to forget about him, T.J. I wanted to think that I would never see him again, and I should just get on with my life. It didn't work. I kept thinking about him. ..and more. I came into space with everyone else because you guys all needed me, and because I wanted to find him. I hoped I could. .."
T.J. hovered in the balance for a moment. He thought of telling her how he felt, as more than friends, about her. He thought of telling her he could try to help her forget about the mysterious guide. But perhaps what he did do was the most valiant of them all.
"If we ever meet him again. . .I'll personally make certain that you and he have a chance to talk," he said, coming over to pat her hand gently. "I don't know how he feels about you, but he's the luckiest guy in the world for having you fall in love with him."
Cassie smiled up at him. "Thanks, Teej," she leaned back on her bed and closed her eyes. "You're a good friend."
He almost wept at the sound of that. Instead, he simply said, "Thanks, Cassie. You're a good friend too."
In silence he returned to his own rooms, and wondered as he did so if anyone else in the universe quite knew what it was like to love someone so completely that if they loved another. ..all you wanted was for them to be happy: even if that meant giving them up.
It was with a start he realized that it meant just as much to him for Ashley to feel better as it would for any of his old female teammates. Or the male ones for that matter. He smiled just a little. Teams may change, but the feeling of being on one doesn't.
"Tommy?" he glanced down to the warm brown eyes of Kimberly Hart, and smiled. "What are you doing here!?" she laughed merrily as she wrapped her arms around him in a warm and welcoming hug. "I haven't seen you in months!"
He shrugged as he hugged. "Been busy. Can I come in for a second, I need to talk to you."
"Sure," she stepped back to let him in. "What is it?"
Before he answered, he looked around curiously. "Is anyone else here?" he asked, and his fingers lightly touched the communicator that Andros had provided him with before he'd left the MegaShip. "It's sort of private business."
Kim's eyes widened; the last she had heard, he'd left the Rangers! "Nope, just me. My roommates are both out for the evening," she made a slight face at that, and he automatically made a note to find out what was going on when he got the chance.
"Okay," he shut the door and turned to her. "Let me give you the short version. I'm currently hanging around with the latest generation of Power Rangers, living on their spaceship, and I'm going to be going with them searching for Zordon once I make some arrangements with my uncle to quit his racing team. We got a visit from the Red Ranger's ex-girlfriend today, and it really broke up his sorta current girlfriend, the Yellow Ranger. Do you think you could come and talk with her, maybe help her feel better and realize that he does love her?"
Kim blinked for a few moments. "Does he?" she asked almost automatically. She'd been through several odd experiences in her lifetime, but never something like this before.
"Yes, he does," Tommy replied firmly. He'd seen the signs of it all over the young warrior. "But his ex deliberately staged things so that Ashley, that's the Yellow Ranger, would draw the wrong conclusions. I don't know exactly why she wants that, but with what Andros told us, then it's probably for some very nasty reasons. Please, will you help us? You don't have to stay, just come and talk with her for a while."
The former Pink Ranger closed her eyes for a moment, thinking. Why should I stay here? she wondered. My life is a total shambles and I threw away everything that meant anything to me years ago. I know Tommy and Kat are together now, and I don't begrudge them a thing. But he's not offering to let me stay, just wants me to help that girl. I wonder. ..
She opened her eyes and looked at him. "I'll go. Just give me a few minutes to make some arrangements."
He waited in the living room as she did arcane things that had always been a mystery to him when it came to females. He'd told her that she didn't have to stay, yet she was packing a bag. . .making phone calls he couldn't quite hear. ..then she scribbled a note and tacked it the door. "I'm ready," she said simply. "Let's go out of the building before we leave, though, I want to make it official I'm gone."
Tommy blinked for a couple of moments, then shrugged. Females, he thought, abandoning all hope of understanding the other half of the species as they headed down the stairs. You'd think she never planned on coming back or something.
She glanced around, trying to figure out what had awakened her. Just when she was about to decide it had been a dream, a tap came at the door again. "Ashley?" an unfamiliar female voice came. "Are you awake?"
"Who are you?" she asked, glancing briefly at the morpher on her table. She didn't think Astronema could sneak on board, but you never knew. The answer she got almost floored her.
"I'm Kimberly Hart."
The door flew open a moment later, and Ashley stared directly into the face of the woman who was practically a legend at Angel Grove High. World-class gymnast, Pan Global silver medalist, supreme cheerleader. ..Ashley felt almost for a moment like falling to her knees! "You're. ..Kimberly Hart!?"
"Yes, but you can call me Kim," the other young woman smiled. "Can I come in?"
"Sure!" Ashley backed off, noticing Tommy and Andros in the hallway. Andros was looking at her so hopefully. . .Forget it, you don't want him anymore, he's got his OTHER girlfriend!
She turned her back on him and shut the door, staring at Kim. Then something occurred to her. "Umm. ..how did you get here?"
"Tommy brought me," she smiled. "He thought you could use someone whose got a few things in common with you to talk to, but who wasn't one of your friends. I'd like to be your friend, though."
Ashley blinked slowly for a moment. "Umm. ..you do know we're on a spaceship, right?" she asked. Did Tommy tell her about us being Rangers? And if he did. .why?
"Sure," Kim shrugged. "Nice one too. We never had anything like this back when I was active on the team."
Ashley blinked again, not quite certain just what she had just heard. "You mean you were..."
"First Pink Ranger Kimberly Hart, at your service," Kim smiled. "And first things first: Andros loves you more than he loves his own life. He told me everything that happened: what really happened, what Shanra was doing and as much of the why as he knows. He would have told you himself, but you haven't exactly been talking, and he didn't want to break in here."
The Yellow Ranger flushed four different shades of red, then sat down on her bed, staring at Kim, who had taken one of the seats in there. "He loves me?" she whispered. "He loves me?"
"Yes," Kim stated it firmly. "I know this isn't exactly your dream way of finding it out, but things don't always happen the way you think they will," she looked distant for a moment. "Let me tell you what was going on."
Ashley nodded, her every sense and brain cell completely blown by what she'd heard. She listened in ever-increasing shock as everything Andros had told the others, then retold to Kimberly, was retold one last time to her. As she heard about Shanra's true nature, and how she had used Andros, tears sparkled in her eyes. Without a word to Kim, she stood up and walked over to the door. At her approach it slid open, revealing Tommy and Andros right behind it.
She didn't stop, just kept walking straight over to Andros, and did what she had wanted to do almost since she had seen him: she wrapped him in her arms and planted a kiss of supreme love right on his lips.
"My princess?" Ecliptor was looking at her with concern in his eyes. "Is something wrong, Astronema?"
She shook her head almost automatically. "Where did Shanra go after she left the MegaShip?" she asked, trying to keep her thoughts focused on her work.
"Unknown, Your Highness," her foster father told her quietly. "As you know, she is a mistress of the sorcerous arts, taught by Dark Spectre, among other things."
Astronema nodded; one of the least of Shanra's skills was sorcery. She paced a little more, wondering what was going on and why she was so nervous. Her fingers touched the locket again, and she almost jerked it off her neck in frustration.
"Where is Darkonda?" she asked suddenly, feeling an unexplainable urge to see the bounty hunter. Ecliptor went rigid; that didn't surprise her. She knew the two of them didn't get along. "Well? Where is he?"
Ecliptor looked confused briefly, then shook his head. "I don't know, Your Highness. I haven't seen him around for some time," and I would be very surprised if I did, considering what I did to that strength potion he drank.
She nodded, pacing again until she literally threw herself into the chair and stared at nothing in particular. What is wrong with me? she thought grumpily. Once again her fingers touched the locket, and this time something happened.
She was standing at the edge of a field in a park. Two young children were playing there. One was a blonde girl, the other a blond and brown mixed boy. Their features were faintly alike, she could tell without knowing how that they were twins. She watched as they played with a ball that they seemed to be moving by telekinesis.
The ball went bouncing away suddenly, and the boy ran after it, giggling. The girl stayed and waited for him to return. Then from the shadows a figure had come. It ran up to the girl swiftly and picked her up, dragging her kicking and screaming away from the field and into the woods, with her brother's angry and scared cries coming from behind. Just as soon as they were out of sight good, he warped away with the girl.
Astronema found herself with them still, however. They were in front of a strange house, on a distant planet, she sensed. They didn't go inside, however. Astronema recognized the creature that held the child now. It was Darkonda. And the child was. ..herself.
Then Dark Spectre appeared, and despite knowing him for what she did, she stepped back in shock. The girl was staring up in tears, shaking and crying. Then the overlord of high evil spoke. "Take her to Ecliptor, but do not let him see you. I have told him that he is to raise her, and that she will be brought to him tonight."
"As you command, Dark Spectre," Darkonda bowed. "My payment?"
A scroll and a potion were suddenly in front of them. "There is your payment. The potion will grant you nine lives. Nine times can you die and return from it. The scroll will allow you to keep track of those, that you will not be caught unawares."
The overlord of darkness looked down at the girl, and touched her for a moment on the forehead. She screamed at the heat of him, then suddenly went limp and still. Dark Spectre seemed to smile. "When she awakens, she will be Astronema, the Princess of Darkness. Never again to be Karone Denira, daughter of Drovos Denira and Selon Denira, twin sister of Andros Denira. She shall be only MY heir, the future Queen of all that is evil and foul."
Astronema jerked up, her eyes wide suddenly, and full of tears. "Andros," was all she said, before grabbing her staff teleporting away. Ecliptor stared at where she had been for a moment, then sighed. Three words only did he speak in farewell.
"Good luck, Karone."
Andros just kept his arms around her, not wanting to feel anything but her now and forever. "It's all right. Shanra is an expert at manipulating people. Believe me, I know. If you hadn't acted like you had, I would have probably fell right back under her little sexual spell. It's happened before, and I had to get shocked out of it the hard way. You saved me before anything happened I would have regretted."
"Did she now?" Tommy, Kim, Andros, and Ashley all jerked into fighting stances at the sound of that voice, even though Kim herself had never actually heard it. Something about it made her want to fight. "Or did she only delay it?"
Andros gulped visibly. "Shanra, where are you? What are you doing?"
A soft, musical laugh. "I'm here," delicate fingers traced a line around Andros' collar, then were gone. "I'm everywhere, Andros. I'm in your blood. You can't get rid of me. You never could. Why did you never take another lover after me? Because I am a part of you, and always will be."
"Never!" he hissed, but he couldn't deny in the silence of his mind that she had been very talented. To lay with another wouldn't have quite been the same.
She chuckled. "And here we have two former Power Rangers," Tommy and Kim both felt as if eyes were on them. "Two former Rangers who used to be in love, as a matter of fact. What's the matter, Kimmy, did you miss your man so much you had to follow him clean into space?"
"I came because I was needed," Kim could suddenly feel a heat boiling in her soul that she hadn't felt in years. "I came for a friend. . .nothing else. .."
Another laugh sounded, and Shanra formed herself into being between the four Rangers. "You believe that. But I have not come for any of you three," she gestured to Tommy, Andros, and Kim. "I came for someone else. You see, it's recently been told to me that Astronema has quit her job as Princess of Evil. Dark Spectre isn't very thrilled about that, but I pointed out something to him."
She turned swiftly to look at Ashley. "That corrupting a Power Ranger would be much more fun than just raising a kidnapped girl up to be evil."
Andros made a sound like `gurk', and Shanra laughed. "Yes. Your cute little sister Karone is. .or was. ..I'm really not certain of the tense right now, since she hasn't really went back to being her old self just yet. ..Astronema."
Shanra stepped coolly and calmly over to where Ashley was standing half-frozen in fear and shock. "Of course, that doesn't really matter. There's going to be a new Princess of Evil in a short while."
She was reaching out a hand to Ashley, her eyes glinting in amusement and evil. The Yellow Ranger wanted to move, more than anything, but her muscles refused to obey her commands. Shanra's hands were a scant half inch from her skin when a beam of violet light broke between them.
Everyone turned to look. Reactions varied, depending on who was looking.
Ashley's eyes were wide with shock and relief.
Andros felt as if his soul had finally come home.
Tommy was wondering if this was all one really large cosmic joke or worse.
Kim was wondering if just maybe she should have stayed in bed that day the way she'd thought about when she woke up.
Cassie, opening her door at the sound, hoped the strangeness meant the Phantom Ranger had returned.
Carlos wondered what else could happen before they left Earth-orbit.
T.J. took one look at who was there and almost passed out.
Shanra was angry, she'd promised a new Princess of Darkness to Dark Spectre when he had warned her of Astronema's treachery almost as soon as it had happened. She didn't want to know what he would do to her if she failed.
Astronema-Karone was glad she had arrived in time. She had known Dark Spectre wouldn't permit her post to go unfulfilled. She'd expected either to be hunted and brought back, or for him to send out people to find another.
Her Wrath Staff still pointed at Shanra, she said quietly, "Get off this ship. And don't ever come back."
Shanra glared at Astronema for a moment, then stepped back as Andros, Ashley, Carlos, T.J., and Cassie all stepped around her, pointing various weapons at her. None of them were morphed, but she had the extreme feeling it would only take a second to fix that. She was powerful, but even she wasn't good enough to take on all of them at the same time.
"You'll see me again," she gave her traditional exit line, then dissolved into smoke and was no more.
Andros was the first to find his voice. "She always did say that when she left."
With that, the tension seemed to drain out of the room suddenly. Everyone turned to Astronema, most especially Andros. "Is . ..is it true?" he asked quietly, daring to walk over to the woman who had just driven one of his personal nightmares away. "Are you.. .her?"
Astronema closed her eyes for a moment, then lifted her staff over her head. All of them stepped back, not certain what to do just then. Then she spoke. "I am Astronema no longer. I deny this Staff and all the evil that comes with it. No longer am I the Princess of Evil and Darkness. I am no longer Astronema. I am Karone Denira."
Purple light flashed all around her for a moment, then the Wrath Staff shimmered and vanished in a blinding glare of white light. When everyone could see again, Astronema did not stand where she had. Instead, a young woman with short-cut blonde hair and crystal blue eyes, garbed in a normal pair of jeans and T-shirt of purple, stood there. She smiled, a warm and human expression.
"I'm home," she whispered, looking at Andros. Slowly, she reached to her throat and pulled out a locket similar to his and opened it, turning it around to show everyone else. Andros mimicked the movement, and everyone who hadn't been out there to hear Shanra's statements gasped at the identical pictures.
"Welcome home, Karone," Andros whispered, wrapping his arms around his twin sister. "Welcome home at last."
"I am sorry, great evil one," she said, keeping the fear from her voice. This was the first time she had ever failed in a mission, and she wondered if she was possibly losing her touch. No, never! That could never happen!
He only looked at her. "You did not reclaim Astronema nor did you gain me the Yellow Ranger. But you shall not fail. I shall not permit it."
She was going to ask what he was talking about, when he continued. "From this moment on, you are the Princess of Evil, in charge of keeping the Power Rangers from finding Zordon. You shall be subordinate only to two beings."
Shanra nodded mutely, feeling the sudden influx of power as the Dark Princess' power came to her, materializing in the form of the Wrath Staff and Astronema's old armor forming around her. Dark Spectre continued. "Over you shall be myself," that was a given. "And my new right hand, Darkonda the bounty hunter."
"Hello there, my friend!" Shanra whirled to see the evil creature walking up behind her. The two of them had always gotten along well, though personally she considered him one of the more repulsive beings in the galaxy. "Isn't it nice we're going to be working together from now on?"
"Yes," was all she permitted herself to say for now. She was somewhat angry at her freedom to pick and choose what she did being taken from her. She had gained enormous power from it, however, she reminded herself. Perhaps this wouldn't be so bad.
Dark Spectre nodded, pleased. "Darkonda, the Dark Fortress is now yours, as is command of the Quantrons, Ecliptor, and Elgar when he returns from his vacation. Use them wisely and bring defeat to the forces of good!"
"As you command, Dark Spectre," Darkonda bowed low. "I am at your service!"
The mighty monarch of evil vanished, and Darkonda laughed. "It looks like we've got a lot of work ahead of us, Princess Shanra!"
"Yes," Shanra smiled suddenly. She swore in her heart in that moment she would not be subordinate to Darkonda forever. He would overreach himself and perish, or the Rangers would destroy him. .or she would. It didn't matter. She had all the time in the world. "We have quite a lot to do."
And to settle some scores with the Power Rangers is the first thing on my list.