Disclaimer: The Power Rangers in Space and their various canon friends and enemies do not belong to me. All original characters DO belong to me, but characters and concepts will possibly be shared if requested politely.
The universe was safe. Thanks to Zordon's heroic sacrifice, all creatures of darkness and evil had been destroyed or purified. The Power Rangers had returned home victorious to be hailed as heroes.
This was turning out to be a problem.
Cassie ambled into the recreation room and collapsed into her seat at the table.
"Whew!" she sighed. "What a day!"
T.J., Carlos, Ashley, and Andros nodded sympathetically.
"We know how you feel," said T.J. "I'm beginning to see why Zordon had that rule about not revealing our identities. Not that I regret what we did, but..." He trailed off meaningfully.
"Has anyone seen Zhane and Karone?" asked Andros. "I told them we were having a meeting today."
"They were on the simudeck last time I saw them," Carlos replied. "If you want, I could go get them for you."
"No, let them have some privacy!" said Ashley. "It isn't easy to come by these days." She and Andros exchanged meaningful looks.
Since their triumphant return to Earth, the Power Rangers had been discovering the price of fame. Though they had no problem with credit being given where credit was due, there was only so much star treatment a sane person could stand. They were constantly being bothered by ardent admirers, autograph hounds, reporters, talk show hosts, movie agents, and on and on and on. It had been fun at first, but it quickly grew tiresome, and yet people had come to expect the Power Rangers to accommodate their wishes, so they continued in asking for interviews and autographs. As Ashley had mentioned, it was next-to-impossible to have any time away from their thousands of fans...a situation that was putting a crimp in a couple of romantic relationships.
Momentarily, Zhane and Karone arrived, laughing over some private joke.
"Hey! What have you two been up to? Getting into trouble?" T.J. joked.
"Do you think we'd tell you if we were?" replied Zhane, grinning.
"We just talked," said the more serious-natured Karone, taking a seat at the table next to her brother. "It's such a relief to be able to talk openly for a change, without half the population of Earth eavesdropping and asking questions. You'd think they would at least be a little worried about irritating me, of all people."
Zhane sat next to her and put a comforting arm around her. Ironically, Karone seemed to be getting more attention than any of the others. Though only an honorary member of the team who had very little to do with the salvation of Earth (other than helping to make it necessary in the first place), Karone seemed to fascinate the planet's inhabitants. Her miraculous return from the dead, her previous association with the dark side, and her striking good looks earned her a lot of unwelcome questions, many of them concerning areas of her past that she would much rather have forgotten. Freed from the Dark Specter's influence, Karone was a friendly and sweet natured person who craved the approval of others, but the constant irritations of being world-famous was starting to put a strain on her, and she and her friends secretly wondered if some of her old habits might begin to resurface.
"We just can't go on like this," said Andros. "and that's why I called this meeting. Something has got to change, and soon. What are we going to do?"
"I could almost wish a couple of monsters had survived, so we could have an excuse to go somewhere and do something," Carlos said.
"No such luck," said Zhane. "Believe me, I looked, and there weren't any. Something that evil would show up in this universe like a bar of soap in a coal bin...or maybe that should be a lump of coal in a soap bin."
A faint metallic clatter preceded the arrival of Alpha 6.
"Oh, there you are! I'm glad you're all here," he said.
"Is there a problem?" asked T.J. hopefully.
"No, not exactly..." said Alpha, a little taken aback. The Rangers looked disappointed. "But let me show you something strange."
He led them all into the bridge. A computer screen was lit, showing an image of the black emptiness of deepest space. A few trembling, dying stars flickered in the background as their ancient lights burned slowly toward extinction. The jarring note in the picture was a long, horizontal slash of light, like a knife wound in the sky, shimmering and pulsating.
"Whoa," Carlos exclaimed, "what is that thing?"
"It's an anomaly," Alpha replied. When his answer drew only blank looks, he explained, "It's a flaw in existence, a tear in the very fabric of reality!"
"Is it dangerous?" asked Ashley nervously.
"Maybe," answered Alpha. "The laws of nature don't necessarily apply to it. It could do anything!"
Cassie was staring at the rip with a worried look. "Is it just me, or is that thing moving?"
"I've been monitoring it for some time now, and I've come to the conclusion that it's growing!" Alpha replied. "Furthermore, according to my calculations -"
"Ahem?" interrupted a voice.
"Sorry. According to D.E.C.A.'s calculations and mine -"
"- the rip began almost directly after Zordon died!"
"So you think Zordon's energy wave caused that thing to open?" Andros asked.
"In all probability," said Alpha. "It's impossible to say for certain without more data, but-"
"Why are we standing here talking about it?" Zhane broke in. "What we really need to do is get out there and close it up!"
"But it might be dangerous!" Alpha protested.
"All the better," T.J. replied. "Is there any way we can do it?"
"Well, probably..." admitted Alpha reluctantly.
"Great!" Zhane cheered. "Adventure, here we come!"
It wasn't actually that simple. The anomaly was nearly at the edge of the universe, and even at top speed, the Megaship needed time to reach it.
That evening, Zhane and Karone met again on the simu-deck. They had programmed their favorite scenery: a small campsite surrounded by trees with a bright campfire and a night sky spangled with stars. It was versatile enough to fit any mood, and the trees and stars gave the illusion of complete privacy.
When Karone arrived, Zhane was already waiting for her.
*I'm late,* she thought, and smiled at the complex joke contained in that simple sentence.
"Hi," Zhane greeted. "Pull up a log and have a seat...did I mention earlier that I like your outfit?"
"Thanks," she said, gracefully taking a seat next to him. "Purple is my favorite color. It's the color of royalty...and of penitence."
Zhane caught the distant note in her voice. "Do you still think about your old life?" he asked.
"I do. I think about it a lot. Is that bad?"
"It isn't bad. It's part of who you are," said Zhane. "You may think like a Power Ranger now, but you still move and talk like a princess."
"Really? Hmm. I guess there are some things that stay with you."
"Do you miss being a princess?" Zhane asked.
"Oh, no! I'm happier with you all than I've ever been in my life...even when I was young, I think," Karone replied. "But...there are some things..."
"Don't worry, Karone. You can tell me."
"Well...I do feel kind of bad about Ecliptor. Maybe it's strange, but even though he was evil, he still had some good things about him, too. He believed in honor and loyalty and dignity...and he did love me in his way and tried to do what he thought was best for me. He couldn't help being the way he was made. He never could have been happy in a peaceful universe like this, but still, it doesn't seem right, somehow..."
Zhane listened quietly, without comment. It was one of the things she loved most about him: he accepted her totally, expecting nothing of her. True, she loved her brother, and her other friends were all very dear to her, but there were some things they had never quite been able to understand. In their minds, "Astronema" and "Karone" were two entirely different people, one evil and one good, who had somehow come to occupy the same body. Only Zhane seemed to be able to comprehend the idea that the two were actually one, a complex being made of many different qualities, a person with hopes and dreams, likes and dislikes, and the capacity to love and desire love in return. Zhane didn't need labels for her. He had always loved her, ever since that first ill-starred meeting, and he loved her still, no matter what she was called.
After a thoughtful moment, Karone spoke again. "There's something else, too. I have to wonder about those others. Not the ones who were destroyed, you know, but the ones who were healed."
"They seem happy," offered Zhane. "I went to check on them one day, just to be sure. They've all changed their names and settled down to start new lives. What's wrong with that?"
"Maybe nothing," Karone replied, "but then again, maybe it is wrong. I've been thinking about it. When you spend a lot of your time alone, you learn to think about things, and what I've been thinking about is that maybe they aren't supposed to be like that. I was never really happy as an evil princess. It wasn't really me, you know. It was just a part written for me by Dark Specter, and I was taught to play that part so well that I forgot all about who I really was. Who's to say that these others - Zedd, Rita, Divatox, or whatever they call themselves these days - can really be happy this way? Can you understand?"
"Yeah, I think I can," Zhane replied.
"I'm not saying that's how it is, just how it might be," said Karone. "It's just a thought that occurred to me one day, and I keep wondering...but I don't really want to talk about it. It makes me depressed."
"Well, you didn't have to bring it up," Zhane reminded her.
"Well, I wanted to talk about it to someone. I just don't want to talk about it any more."
"Then what do you want to do?"
Karone smiled impishly. "I want you to dance with me!"
"I can't argue with that!" Zhane laughed. He clapped his hands and called for music, and the simu-deck computer responded by playing a slow song. Then he stood up and gallantly helped Karone to her feet, and she followed him gracefully through the steps of the dance.
Neither one of them was aware that Carlos had decided to take a shortcut to his room. He had stopped in front of the simu-deck, and he had seen and heard most of what had transpired. He smiled at the dancers, who were still happily oblivious to his presence. Then he sobered and walked slowly down the hall. What he had heard gave him much to consider.
Karone also returned to her room that night with a lot on her mind. Her conversation with Zhane had cleared some areas of her mind, only to shed light on new and unexplored ground. The habit of thinking about things, she mused, was difficult to break. Now she was thinking about her new friends and how much they had come to mean to her. She thought about her brother, as good as anything she'd ever imagined him to be and better, and smiled, remembering how he always seemed to brighten the moment she entered the room, as if he had just found her all over again. As for Ashley and Cassie, they were as good as sisters to her (and if things kept going the way they were, Ashley might become her sister in truth). She considered T.J., bold, fearless, and cheerful, a perfect foil for the often pessimistic perfectionist, Carlos. They were all such good friends, and they obviously were very fond of her...and that was what bothered her so much.
Ever since she had joined the team as an Honorary Ranger, she had done nothing to show that she deserved it. Instead of helping her new teammates, she had been captured by her former allies and forced to return to their ranks. The thought of how close she had come to destroying the people she held most dear still made Karone shudder. Now, all the battles were over, and she might as well hand in her communicator and hang up her uniform, because there wasn't any way left for her to help...maybe. But maybe this anomaly would give her a chance to prove herself, the chance she so desperately wanted. With that hopeful thought in mind, she turned off her lights and went to sleep.
It was the evening of the next day by the time they had reached the anomaly, though the only measurement of time they had was the clocks on board the ship, for there was neither day nor night in deep space. Up close, the anomaly was a thing of both terror and beauty, pulsing with spinning, swirling, multicolored lights that hinted at all possibilities. Its size was staggering, and it was still growing.
Andros, cool and collected as always, was slipping easily back into his role as fearless leader.
"Alpha, D.E.C.A., have you two been able to figure out how to close that thing yet?"
"Not yet," Alpha admitted. "It's very nature is illogical; therefore, there's no logical way of figuring out how to proceed."
"So what would the illogical way be?" T.J. asked.
"If the hole is illogical, the illogical way would be the logical way...I think," said Zhane.
"You lost me," Cassie said.
"Well, we've got to do something," said Carlos. "It would be pretty stupid to come all this way just to give up."
"It seems to me," Andros began, "That if it was Zordon's positive energy that created it, we would need negative energy to destroy it."
"Negative energy is always useful, if you want to destroy something," said Karone to no one in particular.
"So, you're saying...what? That we need a monster or something?" T.J. asked.
"We need something evil," Andros replied.
"But there isn't anything evil!" protested Ashley.
Suddenly, the ship began to tremble. The lights blinked wildly. The Rangers had only a few seconds of shock before the anomaly erupted around them and swallowed the entire ship in swirling light...
They had no way of knowing if they remained in the light for seconds or eons, but when they emerged, the Rangers found themselves somewhere totally different. The anomaly was nowhere in sight. Instead, the ship was soaring peacefully above the grassy landscape of some unidentified planet.
"What happened? Where are we?" asked Cassie.
Alpha was already at the computer, searching for answers. "Another good question is, when are we?" he said. "Initial computer scans indicate that we've been pulled through some kind of gap in time-space."
"Then we'd better land this ship and get our bearings, before we get even more lost," Andros replied. "D.E.C.A., bring the Megaship down."
"Beginning landing procedure now," said D.E.C.A.
The ship landed smoothly on the surface of the planet. Alpha pressed a few buttons on the computer and it printed out a data sheet. He studied it briefly, then nodded.
"The atmosphere on this planet is safe for you to breathe," he announced. "It will be some time before we are able to determine our exact location, so why don't you take the chance to explore?"
"Sounds like fun to me," said Zhane. "Anyone else want to come?"
The Rangers conferred and decided that they would all go. After taking some equipment from their lockers, they stepped out the forward hatch and into a new world.
The planet's landscape was astonishingly beautiful. Lush green grass spread out for miles, undulating in a gentle breeze like an emerald ocean. Wildflowers bloomed in profusion, looking like the fragments of a shattered rainbow and filling the air with their sweet perfume scent. Near the horizon, there stood a verdant forest of stately pines, and, beyond that, a range of gleaming snow-capped mountains. The sun was just beginning to set, tinting the sky with a soft spectrum of color and highlighting dramatic clouds. The songs of crickets could be heard, punctuated by the calls of birds. Overwhelmed by this scene of peaceful beauty, the Rangers could only stand in awed silence.
"Wow," Karone breathed. "I've never seen any place so beautiful!"
"Me neither," Ashley replied.
"This place kinda makes home look like a dump," said T.J. "Do you think there are any people here?"
"It's hard to imagine anyone living in a place like this," Carlos responded. "It seems like they'd pollute it, somehow."
Andros unfolded a small scanning device and put it to use. "Well," he said, "unless something has scrambled my scanner, I'd say there's definitely somebody here. I'm picking up the presence of a large group of life forms in...that direction." He gestured toward the setting sun. Then he frowned suddenly. "Two of them are heading this way!"
The teens strained their eyes, staring off into the sunset. A minute or two later, they were able to make out a bright shape that was rapidly approaching them in long, gliding leaps. By the time it had come close enough to be seen clearly, they had all fallen into stunned silence once again. There was a man coming towards them...and he was riding a winged horse!
Ten feet away from the astonished Rangers, the horse reared up on its hind legs, flared its wings, and gave a whinny like an eagle's cry.
"Shh," the rider said soothingly. "Peace, my beauty, be still." The horse calmed at the sound of its master's voice. It stood and stared at the Rangers with curious, intelligent eyes.
"Greetings, travelers!" said the rider, dismounting. "Greetings, one and all, and welcome to Imberwyst!"
"Thanks," said Andros. "How did you find us so fast? We only got here a few minutes ago."
"It was not I who found you," the rider corrected, "but our king, who detected you with his powerful magic the moment you arrived. Her Majesty the Princess felt it would be wise to send someone to investigate, and so here I am. It took only a few moments to get here, because our city of Lyrillis is only just beyond the horizon."
"And I'll bet you make good time on that...that..." T.J. trailed off, realizing that he did not know the proper name for the winged animal.
The rider laughed. "I take it you have never seen a Windsteed? My Tyllira is a fine specimen, swift and good natured."
"She's lovely," said Ashley. She reached to stroke the Windsteed's velvety nose, and it made a twittering, bird-like sound of happiness.
"I think she likes you," the rider said. "By the way, you seem to have my mount's name and not my own. I am called T'leo. What names do you all go by?"
Andros introduced himself and his friends. "I'm Andros, and this is Zhane, T.J., Ashley, Carlos, Cassie, and my sister Karone. We're Power Rangers."
"Power Rangers?" T'leo repeated.
"Yeah, you know," said Zhane. "We fight monsters and stuff...or at least, we did until we ran out of monsters."
"You're heroes, then?" asked T'leo. "That's wonderful news! Her Majesty will be so pleased. We are in need of help, you see."
"Well, we weren't exactly planning on staying here very long," T.J. said. "We just sort of got lost, and we stopped here to figure out where we were."
"And so you shall," T'leo replied, "in Lyrillis. It would be a blot on our reputation if we did not offer you some hospitality. Besides, you should at least talk to Her Majesty about our problem. You might have some advice to give, if nothing else."
"I guess it wouldn't hurt," said Andros. He turned to T.J. "How about you? Do you think we should stay awhile?"
T.J. shrugged. "No reason why not. We aren't in that big of a hurry, and if these people need our help, we should help them. That's what Power Rangers are for, right?"
"Right!" the others agreed.
"Excellent!" said T'leo. "Just fly your spacecraft - my, it's large - due west, and you'll be in Lyrillis in no time. I must go now. Her Majesty will be expecting a report, and I mustn't keep her waiting."
As T'leo rode off into the sunset, Zhane asked, "I wonder who that princess is he keeps mentioning? It sounds like she's more in charge than the king is."
"I don't know," said Andros, "but I guess we'll find out soon enough."
The city of Lyrillis was every bit as ethereally beautiful as the countryside it was surrounded by. It looked like it had been designed by sculptors rather than architects: every building was a work of art, and every street was embellished by trees, fountains, and statues. Plant life flourished in window boxes, spilling down the sides of every edifice and creating shady tunnels as they formed leafy archways. Most incredible of all were the people. Many were human, but many more seemed to be creatures escaped from fairy-tales. Some had bird or insect wings, some had fins and splashed in the fountains. Some seemed to be part plant, and some seemed only to be made out of light. It was fortunate for the Rangers that they had been provided with a guide, a cheerful young man in a blue uniform, to lead them to the home of the princess, or else they never would have gotten anywhere. There was so much to see! At first, they kept calling to each other, "Look at this!" "Look at that!", but soon they were reduced silence and dazed stares. There was just too much to take in.
At last, they reached the palace at the center of the city. It was made of gleaming white marble and crowned with tall, elegant towers with golden spires. The walkway leading up to it was lined with a forest of crystal columns that caught the light of the setting sun and threw rainbows everywhere.
The guide stopped in front of the palace doors and knocked on them in an official manner. On the third rap, they suddenly swung inward, revealing someone who could only have been the Princess of Imberwyst.
She was like a fairy-tale illustration come to life, slender and graceful, with long golden hair and innocent green eyes. She wore a flowing white gown, and a gold circlet crowned her curly tresses.
"Welcome, Power Rangers! Welcome to Imberwyst, and to my home!" she said in a gentle voice. "Please, come inside."
The Rangers did as they were asked, more than willing to let this enchanting person usher them inside.
"Thank you for your hospitality," said Andros. "We're happy to be here. Your planet is amazing!"
"I am glad you like it," said the princess, "but, unfortunately, we have fallen upon hard times. Oh, but I am being an imperfect hostess! I have forgotten to introduce myself. You may call me Stella."
The Rangers introduced themselves one by one:
"I'm called Andros."
"Call me Karone."
"Friends call me T.J."
"And I'm Zhane," Zhane finished. In a gallant gesture, he took the princess's hand and kissed it.
"I am honored to meet all of you," said Stella. No one noticed how her gaze lingered on Zhane. "There is much to discuss...but the hour is growing late, and you all must be tired from your long journey. I will have my servants escort you to the guest rooms, and we will talk more in the morning."
The Rangers made polite protests, but the princess had been right. The events of the last few hours had made them weary, too weary to argue, and so they allowed themselves to be escorted to a set of guest rooms. There they each collapsed into their beds and fell asleep almost at once.
Except Carlos. He tossed and turned for a while, exhausted in body but still wide awake in his mind. Something was making him uneasy, and he was finding it impossible to quiet his thoughts enough to let sleep come. At last, he gave up, got out of bed, put on his jacket, and went for a walk.
Beyond the hall with the guest rooms was another, larger hall, which led off to others that spread onward and outwards like the roots of a tree or the blood vessels of some strange stone beast. Carlos made a short exploration of these, taking care that he could find his way back to his room in the dark. Finally, he came to a large room with picture window at the far end, and he went to have a look outside. The sun had set, and the city was lit up by innumerable lights, like earth-bound stars. The lights had an inviting air about them, and Carlos found himself thinking that if he went to any of the homes where they were lit, he would be welcomed like a long-lost brother. Night birds sang a sleepy lullaby, and a gentle wind blew, as if the entire world was breathing a sigh of contentment.
*It's so peaceful,* he thought. *It's the most beautiful thing I've ever seen. I ought to be enjoying it...so how come I'm not?*
"I don't like it," he said out loud. "I don't like it at all."
His voice echoed around the room, distorting his voice and his words: Like it, like it, like it all...
Carlos shuddered, chilled beyond reason by the relentlessness of this strange, all-pervasive more-than-goodness that made even echoes cheerful. He wished desperately that he was back in his snug bunk on the Megaship, or in his own room at home on Earth. But Earth was years and light-years away, and he had no idea how to get out of the twisting maze of a palace. Feeling defeated, he wandered back to his room and fell into the sleep of the physically exhausted and the sick at heart. In his dreams, he ran through the city of soft lights, pursued by some nameless horror that wore his own face...
The next morning, each Ranger was awakened by the arrival of a blue-uniformed servant bearing a breakfast tray and a letter. The letter, written in Stella's precise, sophisticated handwriting, informed the Rangers that she would be too busy to meet with them that morning, but that they were free to explore her palace until she sent for them.
Having nothing better to do, Carlos did as the letter suggested. He must have been slower eating his breakfast than the others, because when he had finished, the others were already gone, vanished into the labyrinthine mess of a palace, and it was hours before he saw any of them again.
At last, Carlos came across Karone. She was sitting in a large room that was empty except for an elaborate ornamental fountain and unlit except for a number of intricate stained-glass windows. Carlos had to look twice to make sure it was really her: she was sitting perfectly still on the edge of the fountain, and in the dim light of the room, he mistook her at first to be part of the fountain's statuary. He knew the routine pretty well by now. In the last couple of months, Carlos had picked up on most of Karone's habits, and he knew that whenever she was confused or upset, she would sit and stare at the wall for hours on end. This appeared to be one of those times.
"Karone?" he said inquisitively.
She jumped. "Oh, Carlos, it's just you. I didn't hear you come in."
"Of course you didn't," Carlos replied. "You were a million miles away. Mind if I sit down?"
Carlos took a seat on the wall with her - not too close. Karone didn't like to be imposed upon; if she thought she was being pressured, she clammed up. If you wanted to know what she was thinking, you had to be subtle.
"These windows are really pretty, aren't they?" he remarked conversationally.
"Yes...but everything here is beautiful," Karone replied. "It's almost creepy."
"You felt it, too?" said Carlos in surprise. "I thought it was only me."
"Then I'm not imagining it," Karone said. "I thought maybe it was a case of being blinded by light after being too long in the dark..." She trailed off, and was quiet.
"Is that what's bothering you?" Carlos asked. "You know, that feeling that all this is just a little too perfect to be natural?"
"Kind of...but there's more to it than that," said Karone. "I had a strange dream last night, and I was trying to understand what it meant. I dreamed that Stella and I conjured up millions of monsters, and they all ran into the city and tore it apart. It was scary. I don't know why, but something about Stella makes me nervous."
Carlos remembered his own dream and shivered. At first, he had thought it was all in his imagination. Now, hearing about Karone's dream and her own feelings of uneasiness convinced him. They couldn't both be wrong. Something in this place was definitely not right...
He did not have long to think about it, however, before one of Stella's blue-garbed servants appeared.
"Er, ahem," he said stiffly. "Master Carlos, mistress Karone, Her Majesty will see you now. Follow me, please."
As they followed the servant, Carlos said to Karone, "I've never had anyone call me 'master' before. I'm not sure I like it."
"It's better than 'princess'," Karone replied. "Don't worry about it, Carlos. There are some people who just can't live without formalities."
The Rangers were assembled in some sort of meeting room. Stella was waiting for them, accompanied by an older man. He was dressed in royal blue robes trimmed with gold and white, and he wore a gold crown set with diamonds and sapphires. His hair was white, but his face was youthful. His eyes were the same color as his robes, intense and full of wisdom.
"Greetings, Rangers," said Stella. "Allow me to introduce King Arinon, ruler of Imberwyst."
The man in blue gave a slight nod that somehow managed to suggest a full-fledged formal bow. "It is fortunate that you have come to our planet," he said. "Please be seated, and I will explain to you our situation.
"For years, our planet has been persecuted by a group of evil and cunning warriors who call themselves the Dark Forces. Up until very recently, we have been able to hold our own against them, but somehow they have found a way to increase their powers dramatically. We have tried to defend ourselves against them, and so far we have been successful, but only at the cost of many brave fighters. We cannot go on like this much longer. Will you help us, Power Rangers?"
"Sounds like fun to me," said Zhane.
"We'd be glad to help," Andros agreed.
Just then, a frantic servant came crashing through the door.
"Your Majesty!" he shouted. "The south-west quadrant of the city is under attack! What should we do?"
T.J. turned to Andros. "Do you think our morphers still work?"
"Only one way to find out," Andros replied. "Let's Rocket!"
There was a brilliant flash of light. Seconds later, Karone was left to watch as her transformed friends rushed off to do battle. For some reason she could not explain, she had the feeling that they had just made a terrible, sickening mistake.
The Rangers arrived on the scene of the attack, and, for the umpteenth time since they had arrived on Imberwyst, were stunned speechless. They exchanged shocked looks.
"Do you see what I see?" asked T.J.
Ashley saw. "That looks just like..."
"...the Psycho Rangers!" Carlos finished.
"Man, I knew I should have tried harder to get those data cards back!" said Zhane.
"I don't understand it," Andros muttered. "Zordon's energy blast should have destroyed them."
"Worry about that later," T.J. advised. "Right now, we've got some fighting to do!"
The Rangers leaped down to face off with the evil villains, who paused in their destruction to inspect their unexpected visitors.
"And just who do you think you are?" the leader demanded.
"We're the Power Rangers!" answered Andros. "We're here to put an end to you once and for all!"
"Power Rangers? Never heard of them!" scoffed the leader. "And in case you didn't know, we have some powers of our own! I am Red Force!"
"We are the Dark Forces," finished Red Force. "Prepare to meet your doom at our hands!"
The two teams wasted no time beginning the battle. Weapons clashed and sparks flew. Amazingly, the Rangers found it relatively easy to best their opponents. For once, they found it possible to guess what the villains would do and counter it.
Suddenly, there was a brilliant burst of light, so bright that the Rangers were blinded even with their protective masks. Then their sight cleared so that they could see...
"Unbelievable!" murmured Ashley.
"Impossible!" said Zhane.
There was a newcomer on the field of battle. The Dark Forces rallied together behind him, and Red Force gave him a comradely clap on the shoulder.
"There you are at last, Silver Force!" he said.
"I'm always up for a fight!" answered the one called Silver Force.
Once again, the Rangers battled the Dark Forces. They learned quickly that this Silver Force person meant business, and he was much stronger than any of the others. Still, Andros found himself strangely able to get him under control without too much difficulty. The Dark Forces finally realized that the Power Ranges had them at a disadvantage.
"Forces, retreat!" shouted Red Force. The six warriors vanished in starbursts of colored light.
"All right! Good job, guys," said Andros. "Is everybody okay?"
"I don't know," said Zhane. "I think I - ow!"
"What is it?" Andros asked his friend.
"It's okay," Zhane assured him. "I just bumped my knee. It hurts, but I'll be all right."
"I hope so," Andros replied. "We did pretty well this time, but I wouldn't want to take on those guys short-handed. It's strange, though," he mused. "I could have sworn I'd fought with that Silver Force guy before. His style felt so familiar, but I can't place it."
"Their voices were different," Carlos observed. "I don't remember them sounding like that before."
"Well, let's not worry about it," said T.J. "The important thing is, we won."
"You're right," Andros agreed. "Let's go back and tell Stella."
By the time they reached Stella's palace, the news of their victory had preceded them, and they were given a hero's welcome. King Arinon himself met them at the front door, accompanied by Stella and Karone.
"You've done a magnificent job," said Arinon. "We are deeply indebted to you."
"It was nothing. We were glad to help," Zhane replied.
"Listen to that! Such modesty!" said Stella. "I can never thank you enough. You are truly heroic... Zhane, what's wrong? You're limping."
"Well, I, uh, got a little banged up in the fight," he muttered. "Really, it's nothing."
"Nonsense! Servants, this man is injured. See to it that he is taken care of," said Stella. Immediately, two servants arrived to help him limp back to his room. The others trailed along behind, leaving Stella alone with Karone.
Stella stared, starry eyed, in the direction Zhane had gone. "He's so brave and noble," she sighed. "Isn't he just wonderful?"
"Yes," said Karone quietly. "I always thought the same thing myself."
Upon returning to his room after dinner that evening, Carlos found a hastily-scrawled note lying on his desk: "Carlos - Meet me by the fountain. I want to talk to you. - Karone." Carlos read the note quickly, and immediately went to answer the summons. He wanted to talk to someone, and Karone seemed to be the only one who would understand.
The sun had set, and the fountain room was lit with innumerable sweet-smelling candles set in niches and candelabrum. With no light shining through them, the panes of stained glass looked black.
Karone was sitting exactly as she had been that morning, but she glanced up as Carlos came in.
"Hey," he greeted. "You wanted to talk to me?"
"Yes. I thought maybe you would listen."
"I'll listen," Carlos replied, "but I thought you usually went to Zhane when you wanted to talk."
Karone made a face. "Zhane is with Stella. She hasn't let him out of her sight since this afternoon...and I don't think any of the others would understand. They all seem to be so happy here."
"I think they're so happy to be needed again that they don't want to know if something is wrong," Carlos replied. "But something is wrong. There's something about this whole situation that doesn't add up. For one thing, those things we fought - the Dark Forces - looked just like the Psycho Rangers, but we all know they were destroyed...unless we're in the past, in which case they ought to be on Earth fighting with us. And they don't fight or talk like the Psychos. Their voices are different. And then there was the Silver Force... Karone, did you -"
"Don't ask," Karone interrupted. "I've told you before, I don't remember a thing about the Psycho Rangers or anything else I did after I was reprogrammed....but I think that if I had created a Psycho Silver, I would have used it."
"That's what I thought," Carlos said, "but the others want to go on pretending that these are the same old Psychos so they don't have to think that there's something more at work here."
"So...what do you think it could be?"
"I don't know," sighed Carlos, shaking his head. "I wish I knew."
"Carlos..." said Karone, turning beseeching green eyes toward him, "Carlos, I'm scared. I feel like I'm falling and watching the ground come closer and closer and - and - and I don't know what to do!"
Carlos laid a comforting hand on her shoulder. "Don't worry. We'll get to the bottom of this...somehow..."
Carlos was somewhat surprised to see most of his friends gathered in the hallway outside their rooms the next morning. Zhane and Karone were both absent, but the others were all there, chatting animatedly.
"Morning, Carlos!" greeted Ashley. "We're gonna go sightseeing today. Wanna come?"
"Nah," Carlos replied. "I planned on working on my Galaxy Glider today. Besides, I wanted to see if Alpha and D.E.C.A. have figured out where we are."
"Aw, don't be such a spoil-sport," said Cassie. "This will be fun!"
"Thanks, but...somehow, I'm just not in the mood for fun today. I've got a problem on my mind right now, and I want to be left alone until I figure out what to do about it, okay?"
T.J. shrugged. "Suit yourself."
As Carlos walked away, Andros remarked, "You know, he's been really gloomy these last couple of days."
"I think it comes from dressing in black all the time," Cassie replied.
During that last, ultimate battle between good and evil, most of the Galaxy Gliders had been lost or damaged beyond repair. Only Carlos's had survived in more or less one piece. Since he had become a Lightstar Ranger, he had discovered within himself an aptitude and interest in all things mechanical, and so had made a project of trying to put his Glider back in working order. It had been a major undertaking, but now he was very close to completing it. Furthermore, concentrating on such a logical, physical task freed his mind to consider other things. He had a lot to consider.
Carlos had spoken with Alpha and D.E.C.A. as he'd said he would. The only information they could give him provided more questions than answers, but he had a sneaking suspicion that it contained clues that would help him make sense of the present situation. The robot and the computer agreed on when they were - a few months before they had passed through the anomaly - but they were at a loss to say where. Though she claimed to be able to navigate all known galaxies, D.E.C.A. had never heard of Imberwyst.
One thing Carlos was sure of: the Dark Forces were not the Psycho Rangers. At this point in time, they shouldn't even exist. So the question remained: who were they? Where did they come from? Why were they here? Carlos's train of thought could only go around and around in circles.
Wandering the halls of Stella's palace, Karone rounded a corner and unexpectedly walked into Zhane.
"Whoa, sorry about that!" said Zhane.
"It's all right," Karone replied.
"So," he said, "how has your day been so far?"
"Not bad. And yours?"
"Not good," Zhane sighed. "Stella's been following me around all morning! I just couldn't get rid of that girl!"
Karone's heart leaped. "You mean you don't like her? But she's so sweet and beautiful and -"
"And she's also the most shallow, self-centered person I've ever met!" Zhane replied. "I admit, I didn't think so at first, but the more I listened to her, the more I realized that it's all just an act! The only reason she acts like she's so good is so people will make a fuss over how sweet and kind and gracious she is."
"But you spent half of yesterday and all of today with her!"
"I told you, I couldn't get away from her!" Zhane protested. "I mean, what could I do? She's the ruler of this whole planet, and she's letting us live in her house and eat her food and having her servants wait on us. It isn't like I could just say, 'Go jump in a lake, Stella,' like I could with a normal person."
Karone laughed. "I'll bet you would say that, too, if you thought you could get away with it."
"Of course I would!" Zhane replied. "Listen, Karone, you don't have to worry. Nobody's ever going to replace you. I love you!"
"And I love you, Zhane," said Karone, hugging him. "But if you don't mind, I want to go talk to Carlos now."
Zhane laughed. "You're wicked, you know that?"
"Yes," said Karone, grinning playfully. "Like I said before, some things stay with you!"
As the two parted, Zhane called, "Hey, Karone! Got any ideas about how to keep Stella out of my hair?"
"Tell her you've got a headache and want to be left alone," Karone suggested.
"Do you think that will work?"
"I don't know. Maybe. It always worked for Rita."
Carlos, walking through the ever-so-perfect streets of Lyrillis, was jolted out of his reveries by the sound of an explosion. Looking around, he saw the citizens running around in panic. Standing on top of one of the buildings, surveying his work with satisfaction, was Red Force.
"Hey, you!" Carlos shouted. "Do that again and you're in major trouble!"
"Says who?" asked Red Force.
"I do," said Carlos, "and I'm the Black Ranger!"
In answer to the challenge, Red Force fired a blast of energy at Carlos, and clouds of smoke bloomed. When they had cleared, Carlos stood unharmed, resplendent in his jet-black power suit, ready for battle. Enraged, Red Force leaped down from his high vantage point, and the fight began.
Andros had been right about one thing - the fighting styles of these Dark Forces seemed eerily familiar. Though Red Force was a formidable opponent, Carlos was able to get the upper hand. When a series of particularly crushing blows sent them both sprawling, the Black Ranger was the first to get back on his feet. He tackled his opponent and managed to wrap one arm around the villain's neck in a strangle-hold. Red Force struggled mightily, and finally managed to throw Carlos back to the ground. So tight was the Ranger's grip, however, that he took the helmet with him when he fell. He quickly scrambled back to his feet and turned to face the villain. What he saw made his blood run cold.
"Give me back my helmet," Red Force demanded.
Wordlessly, Carlos held out the helmet, and Red Force snatched it away from him.
"This isn't over, Ranger," he snarled. "We will meet again, and next time you won't be so lucky!" A split second later, he was gone.
Carlos stared at the place where the Dark Force had been, letting what he had just seen sink in. The pieces were beginning to fall into place, and he didn't like the pattern they were making. Abruptly, he turned and headed for the palace at a dead run. He could almost see the phantoms of his dream pursuing him...
On her way to the fountain room, Karone saw her friend running down a side hall.
"Carlos, wait up!" she called.
Carlos stopped so suddenly he almost fell over, and turned to face her.
"Karone! There's something I've got to tell you!" he blurted.
"Have you been in a fight?" she asked.
Carlos looked down and realized, somewhat to his chagrin, that he had neglected to de-morph. "Yeah, I was fighting with Red Force, and you'll never believe what happened!"
"First, calm down and de-morph," Karone said sternly. "If you try to explain anything as excited as you are, I won't be able to understand a word you say. Come on, let's go into the fountain room and talk."
A few moments later, the two were back at their accustomed places by the fountain, and Carlos had calmed down enough to speak coherently. He explained briefly his encounter with Red Force.
"...and then I sort of accidentally yanked his helmet off, and that's when I saw his face."
"You recognized him?" Karone asked in amazement.
"Sort of...Karone, he looked exactly like Andros! I mean, exactly like him! Same face, same eyes, same hair, even the same gold earring. But he was different, too. He was...evil. He had the same sort of icy look you used to have."
"Hmm..." Karone mused. "Carlos?"
"Have you fixed your Galaxy Glider yet?"
"Can I borrow it?"
"Borrow it?" Carlos repeated. "What for?"
"I want to check something," Karone replied. "I have an idea that might just explain this whole thing."
It was evening when Karone returned. Light from the sinking sun set the stained glass windows on fire and gave rainbow hues to the water in the fountain. Carlos was waiting anxiously for her.
"Well?" he asked.
"I know where we are," she said, "and I know what the problem is."
"Don't keep me in suspense! Tell me!"
"We passed straight through a rip in the fabric of reality," Karone explained, "and now we're in an alternate reality."
"Alternate reality? What's that?" asked Carlos. "You mean, like, another dimension?"
"Not quite. We're in a whole other universe, but one that contains the same planets and stars and galaxies and dimensions...only different." She paused, trying to think of a was to explain more clearly. "It's...it's like a stained glass window. If I took that window over there and changed the colors of all the panes of glass, would the window be different or the same?"
"Um...well, both, kind of."
"Well, this universe is exactly the same as our old one in basic structure, but the details are different."
"Same window, different panes of glass," said Carlos in understanding. "I see now. How did you know about that, though?"
"Ecliptor mentioned these alternate realities to me, once," Karone replied. "For a monster, he was remarkably well educated, and he taught me a lot."
"So," said Carlos, trying to get the conversation back on track, "what's our problem?"
"The problem is, all realities, though different, are parallel. Linked, you could say. What happens in one has to happen in some way in the others. This reality seems to be in many ways the opposite of our own, and we all have our mirror images here, alike and yet opposite..."
Carlos snapped his fingers. "That's why Stella seems so familiar! She's the good version of Princess Astronema!"
"It also explains why she's so intent on stealing my boyfriend," said Karone, making a face. "And why Red Force looks just like my brother. The Dark Forces are the evil reflection of the Power Rangers. Anyway, this reality has a few flaws in it. There are a couple of factors missing here that we had in our old world. Looking around, I spotted a few of the most obvious - like Jupiter has an extra moon, and things like that. I would guess that's what caused the rip: something happened in our world that this one couldn't respond to, and it caused a shift in the balance of good and evil. But, Carlos, you and the others have been fighting your counterparts. If the evil versions of you are destroyed, the corresponding change..." She couldn't bring herself to finish saying what was on her mind. If the Dark Forces were destroyed now, it would destroy the Power Rangers. She would be safe, but...
*But I would never find my brother or my true love or any of my friends. I would be alone forever. I would rather almost anything happen than that...*
"That sounds...really bad," said Carlos. "We'd better tell the others."
The others were all relaxing in the crystal forest outside the palace, enjoying the slow-motion light show it made in the setting sun.
"Hi, Karone! Hi, Carlos!" Andros greeted. "What have you two been doing?"
"Talking," said Carlos tersely. "Guys, we've got to leave. We've got to go home. We've got to get out of this place right now."
"What do you mean?" asked T.J. "This place is great! We get treated like royalty here. Besides, these people need us."
Carlos and Karone launched into a description of the problem at hand. The others listened with expressions of puzzlement.
"Are you guys sure about this?" Andros asked. "I mean, it isn't that I don't trust you, but it's kind of hard to believe."
"How else can you explain what I saw?" Carlos retorted.
Unexpectedly, Zhane said, "Well, I believe them. I spent a few hours with Stella, and believe me, she's not as good as she looks. Besides, Carlos and Karone wouldn't lie to us, would they?"
"I suppose you're right," said Cassie. "It would explain why the Dark Forces seem so familiar - we've all sparred with each other before."
"So what are we going to do?" asked Ashley.
"Just what Carlos said we would do," Karone replied. "We're going to go back through the anomaly, and we're going to try to set things right."
It took a bit of debating, but at last the Rangers all agreed to Karone's plan of action. Once they had guessed that Imberwyst corresponded with a certain hideout of Dark Specter's, finding the anomaly was easy. Soon, they had it in their sights, a long gash in the sky, bleeding light.
"Hold on tight," said Andros as he guided the ship toward the hole. "We're going in!"
Once again, the light engulfed them, and they passed through the tear in time and space...
The Rangers came out of a state of unconsciousness to find themselves in tattered civilian clothes, standing near the wreckage of a building. Andros wasted no time in contacting Alpha.
"Alpha, where are we? For that matter, when are we?"
The reply was prompt: "You're in Angel Grove. The date is November 21, 1998."
"November twenty-first..." Andros repeated. That's the date of -"
KABOOM! There was an earth-shaking explosion. Bits of half-cooled lava and flaming rock fell from the sky, causing humans and monsters alike to run in panic.
"There went the Dark Specter," T.J. observed.
"We've gone back in time!" exclaimed Ashley. "It looks like Karone was right: we are going to get a second chance."
"Wait a minute!" said Carlos. "Where is Karone, anyway?"
"Well, if we're here," Cassie mused, "then that must mean she would be -"
"- on the Dark Fortress!" finished Andros. "And so is Zordon! Oh, man, I've got to hurry and get up there!" He whipped out his Battlizer. "Red Battlized Ranger Power now!"
"Hey, wait!" T.J. called.
Too late. The transformation was already under way. Andros screamed in pain as the Battlizer forced more power into his body than it could cope with, and it transformed into something that could hold it all: a super-powerful man-machine. Spreading his metal wings, he leaped up into the air and flew out of sight.
Astronema was confused. Strange, incomprehensible images were flitting across her mind, images of people and places she could not recognize, and yet she felt as if she should. Frustration and confusion weakened her will, and she found that she could not make herself look away from the deep, inscrutable eyes that held her gaze.
"Karone," said Zordon, "you are no longer under Dark Specter's power. You can use your powers to stop this madness."
Ecliptor said something, but his voice sounded far away. Astronema took a few steps closer to the wizard, never letting her eyes leave his.
"Look into your heart, Karone," Zordon intoned. "You are not evil!"
The circuitry attached to Astronema's temple shot off a shower of sparks, and she winced in pain, but she still could not look away.
"I - I'm confused," she stammered. "Who is Karone? That name...it sounds so familiar...I don't understand..."
Zordon continued to look into her eyes, willing her to listen, to believe. "Karone is your name, your true name that was given to you by your parents. It is the name your brother called you when you were young, before you were turned to the paths of evil..."
The circuitry shot off sparks again, and Astronema wailed with pain.
"Aaaagh! It hurts! Get it off, take it away!"
Ecliptor, ever protective, was at her side in an instant. He gripped the metallic circuit-box in one powerful hand and tore it away. Astronema gave a sigh of relief...and silently passed out.
Ecliptor shot Zordon a fierce glance. "What did you do to her?"
"Just be patient, Ecliptor," said the imperturbable Zordon. Ecliptor was too taken aback to think of a reply.
At that instant, Andros come dashing into the room. He took one look at his sister and immediately ran to kneel beside her. For one awful moment, he feared that history was repeating itself, but when he shook her gently, she stirred and opened her eyes.
"Andros...she said drowsily. "What's going on?"
"Are you all right, Karone?" asked Andros.
"I don't know. My head hurts." She touched her temple experimentally and brushed away a tiny trickle of blood from where the circuits had been. "Oh, blast all monster surgeons!"
"I think you'll be all right,"said Andros, laughing with relief.
"But Zordon isn't," Karone said. "Maybe we've still got a chance to save him!"
"Save him?" Ecliptor repeated. "But he's your enemy!"
With royal dignity, Karone got to her feet and looked the monster straight in his glowing red eyes.
"I'll tell you who my enemy is," she said. "My enemy is the one who destroyed my planet, scattered my family, and tricked me into trying to kill my own brother! Now, you tell me, Ecliptor...whose side are you on?"
Ecliptor hesitated only a moment. "I am always on your side, my princess."
"Thank you, Ecliptor," Karone replied. "Now, both of you, listen to me. I'm beginning to get ideas for what to do next."
The monsters and evildoers of the universe were in a state of confusion. The destruction of their leader had left them shocked, and Astronema's subsequent promotion to Queen of the Universe didn't help matters any. Furthermore, they resented having to withdraw their armies, but that had been the order: All monsters were to report to the meeting plaza on the Samarian planet. There was a lot of grumbling among the various villains...which was exactly what Karone had planned on.
She and Ecliptor stood on top of a stage carved from the living rock, raised above the milling crowd so that they could be seen by all. Though they appeared calm, they were inwardly tense as bowstrings. There was a lot that could go wrong when you were dealing with a mob of angry monsters, and that was exactly what they were going to be doing in the next few minutes. That was why there were five Power Rangers secreted away in the rocks nearby, hidden behind boulders and sheltered by dark crevices. Only Carlos had stayed behind; he and Alpha were working to find some way of reversing the mechanism that was draining Zordon's powers.
Karone cleared her throat, and the assembled monsters fell silent.
"Monsters and villains of the universe," she addressed them, "I would like to congratulate you on your victory today." The statement drew forth cheers and applause. Karone raised a hand to silence them. "You have all heard of Dark Specter's destruction. By our laws, I am your new monarch. However, upon careful consideration, I have decided to step down."
There were shocked murmurs. Somebody shouted, "But why?"
"SHUT UP!" Karone shouted, and the crowd was silent again. "I have my reasons. If I choose not to tell, that is my business."
"Who's going to lead us, then?" another voice asked.
It was time to deliver the punch line. Karone had to try very hard not to smile in spite of herself. "I do not care. Choose among yourselves."
That statement resulted, as she had hoped, in instant chaos. The group that had been united moments ago turned into a screaming mob of warring factions. Putties, Cogs, Tengas, Chromites, Putrapods, Pirhanatrons, monsters of every description - all battled to support one person or another. The air was filled with noise and light and smells of scorched feathers and fur.
"This looks like a good time to make my exit," said Karone.
Ecliptor hesitated, uncertain. Suddenly, he felt the weight of a hand on his shoulder, and he turned to see the Silver Ranger.
"Come on, Ecliptor," said Zhane. "You travel with us, now."
Ecliptor nodded. Unseen by the crowds of monsters, Karone, Ecliptor, and the Power Rangers slipped away to the safety of the Megaship.
"So," said Andros, "what's going to happen now?"
Having made it safely back to the ship, the group was traveling back to Earth - or, more specifically, to the Dark Fortress that was currently orbiting Earth - to check on Carlos and Alpha's progress.
"The battle will probably end in a stalemate," said Karone. "The monster forces are too evenly matched for there to be a clear winner. Without strong leadership, the union will break up, so there won't be any chance for another universal war for a long, long time. They'll probably spend the next few centuries bickering with each other, if I know anything about monsters."
"So, the universe is safe, huh?" asked Cassie.
"I'd say so," Karone replied.
Suddenly, a computer screen blinked on, showing Carlos's smiling face.
"Hey, guys! Great news!" he said. "We were able to reverse the machine! It might take a long time for him to get all his energy back, but Zordon's gonna be okay."
The Rangers broke into cheers and hugged each other joyfully. On the other hand, Ecliptor looked resolutely glum.
"Something wrong, Ecliptor?" Karone asked.
"No...yes...I don't know," said Ecliptor. "I am glad that you are happy and safe, but... what about me? I could never serve anyone else but you, but I cannot go against my nature. I just...I just don't know what I'm going to do."
Karone considered for a moment. An idea had taken root in her mind. "D.E.C.A., is that anomaly still open?"
"The anomaly is still in existence but closing rapidly," D.E.C.A. responded.
"That's all right, then," said Karone. "It will hardly take any time at all for him to transport himself there."
"Of course! That's a great idea!" said Zhane. "We can send him to Stella!"
"Stella?" Ecliptor repeated. "Who is Stella?"
"Consider her...a second chance," Karone replied. "She is a part of me, my dark side. She will be everything you wanted me to be...and I have a feeling she'll be needing some instructions on how to be evil."
"Well..." Ecliptor hesitated, but there was no mistaking the wistful look in his eyes. He turned to Andros. "You'll take care of Astronema...Karone for me, won't you?"
"You have my word," Andros promised solemnly.
Ecliptor turned back to Karone. "If what you say is true, then I suppose I'll go...but I will never forget you. I love you as I would my own daughter. Always remember that."
"I will," said Karone. Impulsively, she gave him a quick hug. It surprised him, but he let her do it. "You'd better go now," she said. "The doorway will close soon."
"Goodbye, then. I hope you'll be happy." He bowed to her one last time...and disappeared. For a moment, everyone was quiet.
"Well, what do you think?" said Cassie to no one in particular. "Is Stella really going to turn totally evil?"
"Not totally evil," Zhane corrected. "Some things always stay with you."
Karone smiled at him, and he smiled back. Despite the sentimental parting she had just experienced, she felt elated. She had saved her friends, Zordon, and her former servant. She felt that now she was truly part of the team, a real Power Ranger. And she had found a kindred spirit in Carlos...perhaps, in time, the others would come to understand her as well. The future looked bright.
"It didn't take Ecliptor long to make up his mind," Andros commented.
"Well, I guess everybody needs to be needed," said T.J. thoughtfully, "whether they're a monster or a Power Ranger."
"And with the monsters back in business, this universe needs Power Rangers again!" Zhane exclaimed.
"Hey, that's right!" Andros replied. "Come on, you guys, let's go get Carlos and Alpha so we can head out. We've got work to do!"