Disclaimer : The Power Rangers belong to Saban, not me. 'Nuff said. This fic is number 21 in the Personality Conflicts series, taking place after "Final Frontier." It is rated PG-13 by the Motion Picture Association of America for violence, somewhat disturbing scenes, and some bad language. The name of the bad guy, Ciaran, is pronounced "KEY-ar-awn," and is Irish for "black." Cameos contained herein are Hellfire and Jeremy Logsdon. Thanks for all your support, guys. And thanks to Jeremy for Andros' last name.
by : Ellen Brand
"I sometimes think there never blows so red/ a rose as where some buried Caesar bled/ and every hyacinth the garden wears/ dropt in her lap from some once lovely head." Omar Khyyam.
It was a warm Saturday in early June, the type of day where it's just too warm and lazy to do anything useful. All throughout Angel Grove, the sunlight lay thick and golden over the city, and the sounds of the daily activity seemed small and far away. In a modest house in one of the wealthier residential sections of Angel Grove, two teenagers were relaxing in the backyard, enjoying the day.
"These are incredible," Andros breathed, looking around him. "What did you say they were called again?"
Cassie Chan smiled. "Roses. Tea roses, to be exact. They're my favorite kind of flower."
Andros inhaled deeply, enjoying the sweetness of the fragrance-laden air. "They're beautiful," he replied. "I've never seen anything quite like them. And they come in so many colors!"
"Yeah," she agreed, smiling slightly wistfully. "This was always something Mom and I did together. We'd plant roses and take care of them. You have no idea how hard it was to transplant these things all the way from the other side of Nevada. But, most of them made it in one piece." Walking over to him, she laid a hand on his shoulder. "Come on, I'll give you the tour."
Leading him over to the first bush planted along the wall, she gently caressed its crimson flowers. "This is called 'Chrysler Imperial," she informed him. "It's always been one of my favorites. I just like the deep red ones, I suppose."
The next bush held flowers that seemed to be a beige color. "It's called 'Peace.' It's a very popular variety, but I'm not too crazy about it. It's really one of my mom's choices."
Moving on, they came to a bush with beautiful creamy yellow flowers. "'Francesca,'" she identified it. "Did you know that different colors of roses stand for different things?" At his headshake, she continued. "Red roses mean love, while yellow ones mean friendship. Pink ones like 'Elizabeth Taylor' here kind of mean 'you're sweet.' They're the type of rose you give your first crush, or a girl going to prom." The "Elizabeth Taylor" was a bright, astounding pink, with a white streak decorating each petal. Next to it stood a much paler pink blossom, which Cassie identified as "Angela Lansbury." Privately, Andros thought it much prettier than its more vivid neighbor.
"This one is called 'The Bride,' probably because it looks like a wedding dress," she told him, coming to stand before a bush decorated with white blooms. "That other white one on the other side, that one's a different variety. It's called 'Heaven,' and the white's just a bit purer."
"What do white roses stand for?" he asked curiously. Her mouth crooked slightly, and she fixed him with an unreadable look.
"Sorrow," she replied. "They're often used in funeral arrangements." Then she shook off the slightly gloomy air that had briefly taken hold of her. "Roses have been a part of human mythological tradition for years, actually. They're believed to have special powers. Evil is supposedly repelled by their touch, and they burn with a flame that drives away all evil. And the unexplained scent of roses in the air can be a sign that a ghost is present."
"Really? That's neat." His gaze fell on a strange, blue-gray rose blooming near him. "What's this one called?"
"That? 'Stainless Steel,'" she told him. "It's about the right color, too. The lavender-blue one next to it is Blue Nile. They're much younger than the others, so they don't have a special meaning associated with them yet. This orange one over here is 'Folklore.' Orange roses are for parties."
Turning, Andros nearly tripped over a bush bearing yellow roses edged with crimson. One of the briars had snagged his jeans, and he was having trouble getting free. Cassie giggled. "I think it likes you," she remarked, helping him disentangle himself from the plant.
"Friends like that I could do without," he shot back. "What's that one called?"
Again she fixed him with that half-smile and cryptic look. "'Solitude,'" she replied. While he was speechless, she finally freed him from the brambles. "Come on," she grinned. "Let's go inside before you really hurt yourself."
"No arguments here," he replied fervently. The two of them walked into the kitchen through the sliding glass door. Marianne Chan was arranging flowers in a vase on the table when the teens walked in.
"Hi, honey, hello, Andros," she greeted them. "If you're thirsty, just get something out of the fridge. I'm going to go see how this arrangement looks in the dining room." She left, and Cassie pulled two cans of Coke out of the fridge. Giving one to Andros, she sat down at the table and opened hers. He followed suit, and the two were silent for a moment.
"So, things going better with your parents?" he asked tentatively. It was hard to keep secrets on a Power Ranger team, and all four of Cassie's Astro Ranger teammates knew that her relationships with her mother and father weren't exactly ideal. She shrugged.
"Things are about normal. They chewed me out for disappearing, paid attention to me for a couple days, and then everything went back to normal. Mom's busy trying to make her place in the ladies' social circles, and Dad..." she sighed. "Well, he's just Dad. Still working a fifteen-hour day to get everything at his business just perfect. I don't guess they'll ever change."
Before Andros could reply, Mrs. Chan came back into the room, holding a second vase. This one looked fairly inexpensive, and in it were six or so white roses. "I noticed you showing Andros the rose bushes, Cassie," Mrs. Chan began, setting the vase down in front of Andros, "and I had to clip the 'Heaven' bush anyway, so Andros, I thought you might like these. Take them home, they'll brighten up your room."
"Um, thank you, Mrs. Chan," Andros said, slightly uncomfortably. "I'll do that." He rose to his feet. "Speaking of home, I ought to be getting back. I've got- some things I need to do," he excused himself. Cassie nodded.
"Sure. I'll see you by the park Monday, right? After all, it is your first day of school."
He groaned slightly. "Don't remind me. Ma'am, thank you for having me over and thanks for the soda." Then he headed out the front door. Just out of sight, Cassie knew, he would teleport back to the Megaship. Sighing, she got up and headed back out to the garden to do some sunbathing.
In deep space, a pair of eyes watched the blue globe below acquisitively. Dark Specter currently wore the Velociraptor-like shape of a Drakkar, the peaceful inhabitants of the desert planet of Rylora. Instead of their normal sky-blue and cream coloring, though, his scales were dead black, and the eyes fixed on the planet below were a sparkling green, rather than the usual violet. Sitting idly in his command chair, he regarded the Earth with thoughtful eyes, lost in thought.
"'What a brave new world,'" he mused, in a dark, rich baritone, "'that has such people in it.'" The four villains before him had been contemptuous, of Zordon's children and also of the inhabitants of Earth as a whole. Indeed, he himself had been of that opinion, until his first assault on the planet had been foiled, not only by those hyperactive super-brats, but by the populace of the city at large. Humans, though backward, were possessed of far more spirit and bravery than the galaxy generally credited them.
Dark Specter smiled slowly. Had any of his minions been in the throne room, this would likely have sent them screaming for a bolthole. Not only did Dark Specter smile only when he was about to do something supremely evil, but in his current form, the expression exposed far too many teeth for anyone's comfort. "These humans will be a true asset in my conquest of the galaxy," he mused aloud. "First, though, I must conquer them. They are spirited, but their technology is no match for my forces. Without their Rangers, they would quickly fall to me. But how to destroy the Rangers?"
"I believe I can offer a suggestion on that," a cold voice replied from behind him. Dark Specter turned lazily, noticing as he did so a cloud of black energy dissipating from the corner. At the center of the place where the cloud had stood, a young-looking humanoid leaned casually against a wall. He was dressed in the onyx robes of a Dark Nebula warlock, and the spell book under one arm only reinforced the image. His hair was also jet black, and his skin was very deeply tanned. The only brightness about him anywhere was a pair of cold yellow eyes, like those of a great cat.
"Well, well. Ciaran, my old friend. I see you received my message."
Ciaran nodded. "I did indeed. These- Astro Rangers present a most interesting challenge. I have decided to take you up on your offer."
"Then you will destroy them for me?"
Ciaran smiled chillingly. "For the proper payment."
"It shall be done," Dark Specter chuckled. "And the Earth shall belong to the Dark Specter!" The combined laughter of the two evil villains echoed throughout the ship, causing Quantrons all over to shiver in something approaching fear.
Andros padded through the lonely corridors of the Megaship, vase of roses still in his hands. "Where am I going to put these things?" he wondered. "They won't exactly fit on the bridge, and they'd be a little out of place in the Simudeck."
"Why not place them in your quarters?" DECA broke in. "Mrs. Chan said that they would brighten up your room."
"You stay out of this. I don't need flowers on the ship in the first place," he grumbled. Still, DECA was probably right. His quarters were probably the only place in the ship where he could put the flowers and not worry about them getting in the way.
As he walked down the hall in which the sleeping areas were located, he noticed that one of the doors was open slightly. "DECA," he asked, cocking his head, "why is this door open?"
"There must be a short in the system," the computer responded. "I do not detect an open door. Which one is it?"
"It's- Deanara's," he said quietly, looking at his feet.
"I will begin diagnostics immediately."
He sighed. "I'd better check it out. Probably nothing's wrong, but better safe than sorry." Moving into the room, he rolled his body around the doorjamb carefully. Nothing was out of place, and there was no evidence that anyone had entered the room recently. Despite the ship's efficient air filtration, there was still a very small layer of dust over everything.
"Short repaired," DECA announced. "All clear in your sector?"
"Yeah," Andros sighed. "All clear." Looking around, his gaze fell on the table beside the empty bed. Deanara, the Pink Astro Guardian, had always had a vase of flowers there. She had been planning to bring up another bouquet when Dark Specter had sent his challenge. The table had stood empty ever since.
Andros looked at the vase in his hand and his mouth crooked slightly. "Well, Cassie did say white roses were for sorrow," he sighed. Setting the vase of roses on the table, he couldn't help but notice how the flowers seemed to make the room- complete, somehow. As he straightened up, a small holocube caught his eye. Reaching out, he activated it. Light began to shine, and above it, the scene sprang to life.
It had been taken at a beach on KO-35, although Andros couldn't remember by whom. Saoirse, the Yellow Astro Guardian, was laughing at something, her long silver hair tossing in the wind. Beside her, red hair going in all directions, stood the Blue Astro Guardian, Daithi. He was grinning like an idiot, probably because he was the one who had made her laugh. Off a bit to the side stood black-haired Bran, Black Astro Guardian, smiling slightly at the foolishness of his friends. Andros was standing on the other side, looking over at the last member of the group, beautiful blond Deanara. She was standing, looking out over the ocean and only half-paying attention to her friends.
Closing his eyes, Andros deactivated the holocube. Setting it back on the table, he walked out the door, carefully not looking back.
"Hey, there's Andros," TJ pointed. The five Astro Rangers had agreed to meet in the park and all walk to school together.
"Didn't anyone think it was a little odd that he was registering for school two weeks before it let out for the summer?" Carlos asked. Beside him, Ashley nodded.
"Yeah, but Mrs. Oliver just told the administration that his parents wanted to give him a chance to settle into the social aspects before he had to do any major work," she replied."
"It was really nice of Tommy's parents to tell the school that Andros was living with them now that he's not being home-schooled anymore," Cassie added.
TJ chuckled. "Yeah. It's lucky they already know about the Rangers, huh?"
By this time, the four of them had caught up to their red-clad friend, who looked decidedly uncomfortable, shifting his backpack from one shoulder to another. "Nervous?" Carlos asked lightly.
"We didn't have school like this on KO-35," Andros replied. "At fifteen, you were apprenticed to whatever trade you had chosen to follow. Before that, you were taught by your parents. Of course, I was recruited for the Astro Guardians at thirteen, so I spent even longer out of society."
"Well, on Earth, school's as important as a social event as it is for learning. I figure your only problem will be history classes, and Cassie and I can tutor you in those," Ashley responded.
Cassie nodded. "Yeah, it's my favorite subject- next to music, of course."
Andros sighed. "It can't be any worse than fighting Oozemen in the streets," he sighed.
"Don't be too sure," Carlos told him. "You haven't been to gym class yet." He immediately ducked as Ashley and Cassie attempted to swat him.
At lunch, the five of them regrouped in the cafeteria, easily snagging a table. TJ and Cassie took Andros to introduce him to the lunch line, while Ashley and Carlos had had the good sense to bring their own lunches. As the trio returned with their loaded trays, Ashley looked up.
"So, what's on the menu today?" she asked. TJ jabbed his fork at a brown lump gingerly.
"The jury's still out, but I think it's beef," he said wryly. "The cement over here is supposed to be mashed potatoes. Luckily, they haven't found out how to ruin milk yet."
"Cassie, what do you have?" Carlos inquired, looking at the selection of greenery on her tray.
"I figured even cafeteria workers couldn't ruin salad," she grimaced. "I was wrong. Is it me, or should this lettuce qualify for Social Security?" She looked over at Andros, and was surprised to see him eating quite heartily. He had selected the same entrTe as TJ, but he was certainly enjoying it more.
"I think you're the first person I've ever seen that actually likes cafeteria food," Ashley managed. Andros shrugged.
"Listen, I've been living on tankbeef and ration bars for a year. This stuff is practically gourmet cooking."
"Do you know what part of the cow that meat comes from?" Carlos asked.
"At least it comes from a cow. Tankbeef..." Andros just shook his head. "Don't let the name fool you."
"Those mashed potatoes are like glue!" TJ exclaimed. "How can you stand them?"
Andros put down his fork for a second and regarded his friend. A slight hint of a smile touched his lips. "As an Astro Guardian, I traveled a great deal, especially when I was in training. I've been over a great deal of the galaxy, and I've eaten much worse than this. There are planets where sea slug is considered a delicacy, and it's rude not to eat it. I've eaten Zarakin chlaytak and lived to tell about it."
"Chlay- what?" Cassie repeated.
"Chlaytak. It's kind of like- gumbo? A thick soup, with large bits of meat. It's actually quite good, but it's got enough spices to put you over the roof of the school. It's also a lot thicker than these potatoes." Picking up his fork, he continued eating, leaving his friends to stare in astonishment.
"Still having a problem with that thing?" TJ asked, coming up to Andros. The Red Astro Ranger was becoming more and more annoyed as he attempted to open the stubborn, uncooperative locker that he had been assigned.
"Do they all stick like this?" he grunted, hammering on the metal with one hand.
"No, you just must have gotten a bad one," replied TJ.
Andros shook his head. "Forget this," he grumbled. Quickly checking to see if anyone was watching him, he placed one hand over the lock and closed his eyes. TJ heard a click, and was startled as Andros' locker was suddenly wrenched open with jarring force.
"What did you do to that thing?" TJ asked in awe. Andros chuckled.
"The people of my planet spend a great deal of time developing our telekinetic abilities. I just- gave it a nudge."
"Cool." TJ looked at his watch. "Come one, we'd better go meet the others at Ashley's locker, or they'll leave for the youth center without us."
As they approached the locker, they saw Cassie, Ashley, and Carlos already there, talking to someone that neither boy recognized. "Hey, ladies, Carlos," TJ greeted them. "Who's your new friend?"
"Oh, TJ, this is Brad Stoner," Ashley replied. "He just moved here from Texas. Brad, these are my friends TJ Carter and Andros Langenkamp."
Brad extended his hand, which TJ shook without hesitation. "Nice to meet you," Brad grinned. Turning to Andros, the two also shook hands, glances locking for an instant. A cold chill raced up Andros' spine, prompting him to study the newcomer more closely. Brad was about his height, with jet-black hair and darkly tanned skin, not uncommon for a native of Texas. It was his eyes that held Andros' attention. They were a strange tawny gold color, like a lion's mane. The only other person that Andros had ever seen with eyes like that was Lillian O' Neil, the Black Zeo Ranger, but her eyes didn't hold the cold, alien quality that Brad's seemed to possess. Andros shook his head as if to clear it. He was probably just imagining things. That could happen if you were on your own too much.
"Welcome to Angel Grove," he smiled, trying to seem friendly.
"Thanks," Brad responded. "Nice hair."
Andros flushed. His highlights had drawn a few comments in the fairly conservative Angel Grove High, and he was seriously considering dying them. "Would you believe it's natural?" he sighed.
"I've seen stranger things."
Ashley broke in then. "Before you guys showed up, I was just about to ask Brad if he wanted to go to the youth center with us."
TJ and Carlos traded glances. "Um, Ashley, not to be rude or anything, but weren't we supposed to have a workout?" Carlos asked dubiously.
Brad shrugged. "If it wouldn't be an imposition, I'd like to work out with you guys. I need someone to spar with."
"You take martial arts?" Cassie inquired, cocking her head.
"Yeah, Preying Mantis Kung Fu. Have you heard of it?"
TJ nodded. "Yeah, a friend of ours takes that. Well, hey, if you want to spar with us, we'd love to have you." The six teens headed to the youth center, Andros dragging behind. He kept trying to tell himself that there was no reason for him to dislike Brad Stoner, but he couldn't seem to convince himself of that.
"Kiyah!" TJ rolled quickly away as Brad swept a roundhouse kick at his head. Andros, watching them, was impressed. Brad had matched Carlos strength for strength, and then turned around and dodged Ashley's attacks, despite her phenomenal agility. Now he was outwitting TJ on the mats, a feat that few could aspire to. He seemed to be able to adapt himself almost instantly to his opponent's fighting style.
"Oomph!" TJ hit the mat hard, and did not get up. "Okay," he laughed, "I know when I'm beaten." Brad chuckled, helping him up. "Man," TJ continued, "you're excellent. Think you can teach me some of that?"
"Sure, if you think you can keep up with me," the Texan grinned.
TJ shook his head. "Hey, Andros," he called. "It's your turn on the mats with this guy."
Andros levered himself to his feet. Ever since he had met Brad Stoner, an uneasy feeling had taken up residence in his spine. He really did not like the idea of putting himself in a position where he was inviting the other to attack him. Sure, they were just sparring, but it was easy- too easy- to make a mistake.
Suddenly he shook his head. What was he thinking? Brad was new in town, and their paths had never crossed before. Why on earth would the newcomer want to hurt him? Still wondering, he made his way slowly down to the mats. The two bowed to each other, and the fight began.
Andros started by sweeping a roundhouse kick at his opponent's head. Brad dodged it easily, retaliating with a punch towards Andros' stomach. Andros wasn't there, however. He had fallen onto his back, letting Brad's punch go over him as he swept a heel into the other's knees. Brad fell to the floor, and Andros backed off, letting him get up.
The fight continued in this manner for some time, and Andros began to realize why he was winning, when none of the Rangers before him had. TJ, Carlos, and Ashley all had patterns to their fighting, based on their strengths, whatever those strengths might be. He, however, fought randomly, switching techniques every time he attacked. Finally he managed to knock Brad off his feet, pinning him to the mat with a forearm held lightly across his throat. For just a second, Andros could see anger blaze in the other's eyes, then the fire died out and Brad smiled.
"Okay, you win. Let me up, man." Andros backed off, still watching the other suspiciously.
"I'm going to go get a soda," he said casually. "Cassie? I think it's your turn." As Brad and Cassie moved onto the mat, Andros headed to the bar, from which he could watch the action and not be noticed.
Sitting down at the bar, Andros noticed that the person behind it was certainly not Ernie. The replacement was built solidly, tall and muscular. Except for his sandy hair, he reminded Andros of Jason, the Red Morphin Warrior he had met not long before. As the young man behind the counter turned around, Andros amended that image. The new bartender also had green eyes and a pair of thick-lensed eyeglasses.
"What'll it be?" the newcomer asked, turning to Andros, still drying a dish absently.
"Um, Coke, please. Where's Ernie?"
"He's down at the Beach Club today. He's got so many irons in the fire now, he can't spend too much time in any one place. My name's Jeremy, and I will be your student bartender for this evening." Jeremy extended his hand across the bar, and Andros shook it.
"You're new around here, right?" Jeremy continued, setting a glass on the bar. "I don't remember seeing you in school last year."
"Yeah, I just moved here," Andros replied absently. The sound of "ki-yahs" behind him caused him to turn. Out on the floor, Cassie was definitely holding her own against Brad, having picked up on Andros' unpredictable style. Unlike his own sparring match with Brad, however, Andros could see that the Texan was taking his defeat a lot better this time.
"Had enough?" Cassie grinned, extending a hand to help her opponent up.
Brad chuckled. "From a woman as beautiful as you? Never!"
"She's good," Jeremy observed, startling Andros slightly. He had forgotten that the bartender was watching.
"Yes, she is," Andros responded. His eyes never left the two on the mat, which did not go unnoticed by his companion.
"She your girlfriend?"
Andros shook his head. "No, just a friend." The tone of his voice said that he wasn't paying much attention. Jeremy took the hint and went to go wait on someone else.
Out on the mats, Brad and Cassie had finally called a halt to their action. The two of them bowed to each other, both breathing hard and looking quite content. "One of the best sparring matches I've had in a while," Brad grinned. Then he did something totally unexpected. Reaching out, he took Cassie's hand in his own and planted a kiss on it.
Andros felt a sudden pang in his heart. It wasn't really jealousy, because Cassie didn't belong to him in any sense of the word. But seeing her face light up at the way she was being treated did something to him. The kiss had made her feel special, and he had no idea how to do that. Sighing, he finally admitted the truth to himself. "I think I'm falling for her," he muttered. "How did that happen?"
Saturday dawned clear and hot, and most of Angel Grove headed for the beach, Astro Rangers included. Getting out of TJ's blue 4×4, Andros looked around. "The last time I was at the beach, I wound up fighting a killer chritla," he told Carlos quietly. "Kind of like your earth squids."
"There are definitely no squid in the waters off Angel Grove," Carlos assured him. "Giant green dragon robots, yes, but no squid."
Andros looked at him for a long moment, then decided not to pursue the conversation.
"Could- mph! Could somebody give me a hand here?" TJ groaned, digging in the back seat of his car. "I need someone to help me carry the picnic basket."
"Good Lord, TJ!" Carlos cried, moving to help his friend pull the huge basket out of the back seat. "How many people did you plan on feeding today?"
"My dad taught me to always be prepared. Who knows, we might run into the De Santos family!"
While TJ and Carlos carried the basket down the sand, Andros followed behind with his arms full of towels. Finding an open spot, they set up and then got ready to swim. Pulling off his T-shirt, Andros looked down at his red swim trunks. "You know, every time I think I've gotten used to Earth, something else pops up to show me how different your people are."
"What happened this time?" Carlos asked, beginning to rub sunscreen on himself.
"Well, your custom of wearing specific clothes, just to go swimming. It's strange."
TJ paused in shucking his sandals and looked at Andros. "What do they wear swimming on your planet?"
"Nothing," Andros replied matter-of-factly. "Why get a perfectly good set of clothes wet?"
Carlos blushed. "Does that go for both sexes?" he managed.
"Of course. Why?"
The Black Astro Ranger just shook his head. "Man, if Ashley was skinny dipping, I'd probably wind up drowning!"
"Or walking into beach umbrellas," TJ grinned.
"Hey, here come the girls!" Carlos, anxious to escape the teasing, jumped to his feet and waved. The two women headed over to their friends, setting their bags down.
"You ladies look exceptional," TJ chuckled, examining the two girls over his sunglasses. Cassie was wearing a simple pink tank suit, which looked excellent on her. Beside her, Ashley wore a modest yellow two piece, although by the way Carlos was looking at her, it wasn't modest enough. Meanwhile, she was checking him and his black swim trunks out, and obviously liked what she was seeing.
"Good grief, Teej," Cassie cried, her eyes falling on the mammoth picnic basket. "Who invited the National Guard to our beach party?"
"Look, swimming makes me hungry!" he protested.
"Everything makes you hungry," Carlos retorted.
TJ looked around the beach, scanning for anything to get the attention off his appetite. "Hey, look, aren't those the Turbo Rangers?" he pointed. The others followed his arm with their eyes. Sure enough, the five younger teens were a little ways down the beach, enjoying the day. Justin, Tasha, and Fred were involved in a cutthroat volleyball game with some other beachgoers, while Franklin and Rosa were playing in the water, knocking each other down in the surf.
"I think they're a little busy," Cassie chuckled. "Maybe we'll go talk to them later. Andros? Want to help me build a sandcastle?"
"Sure," he replied, "if you'll explain what one is." She simply shook her head and dragged him off by the wrist. The other three just watched their friends go in amusement.
"So, basically, you pack wet sand together and mold it into the shape of a castle?" Andros asked skeptically, watching as Cassie patted the lump together. "Why?"
"Because it's fun. The sand feels good under your hands, it's neat to see the castle take shape, that sort of thing. What did people do at the beach on KO-35?"
"Usually we swam, had water fights, and played a game similar to your Earth volleyball. We used telekinesis, though, as well as our hands." He grinned suddenly. "Plus, Daithi and Saoirse would sneak off together all the time. They were handfasted- kind of like being engaged- so it wasn't hard to guess what they were doing," he chuckled.
Cassie blushed. "They were friends of yours?" she asked, trying to regain her composure. Andros rarely talked about KO-35, and she was curious to know what his life there had been like.
He nodded, sobering a little. "Blue and Yellow Guardians, respectively," he replied. "Daithi was a goofball, but a certified genius. Saoirse was quiet, a great listener, and always there for a friend."
"You must miss them very much," Cassie said softly.
Andros never got the chance to reply as a shadow fell over them. Looking up, they saw Brad Stoner wearing black swim trunks, gazing down at them through a pair of very dark sunglasses. Andros had the sudden irrational impression that he was looking through the glass, directly into a dark emptiness. He shook off the idea, but a chill remained, perhaps because of the shadow.
"What's up, guys?" Brad asked, hunkering down next to them.
"Building a sand castle," Cassie replied, smiling. "Wanna help?"
"Of course," he chuckled. "After all, a queen like you deserves a most ornate castle."
Andros stood up abruptly, dusting his hands off on his trunks. "I'm kind of hungry, Cassie. I'm gonna head back to where TJ's stored the food. Want me to bring you back something?"
She shook her head. "No, I'm not exactly worried about the food running out on me. I'll see you later."
"Yeah, right," he nodded, heading back for the basket. All the way there, he felt as if something dark and cold were trailing him, but he refused to look back to see.
"Hey, Andros," TJ hailed, sitting up. The Blue Astro Ranger had been lying on the sand, soaking up the rays of the sun. "Want a hot dog? I got some on the grill." TJ indicated the hibachi that sat to one side of the blanket.
"Hot dog? They're made of dog?" Andros asked, sinking down on the sand next to his friend.
"No, I don't think so. I'm not sure what's in them. Beef, I think."
Andros made a face. "I'll have a sandwich, thanks."
TJ passed his friend a sandwich, noticing as he did so the pensive expression on the other boy's face. "Something wrong? I thought you and Cassie were building a sand castle."
"Brad showed up, and I felt like I was intruding," Andros replied.
"You like her, don't you?" TJ chuckled.
"I don't know, really. Before- before Dark Specter, the Pink Astro Guardian was named Deanara. She and I- we were together. I cared about her very much. Now I have these feelings for Cassie, and I don't know if they're real, or just carry-over because of the uniform."
"What was this Deanara like?"
"She was sweet and kind, a lot less assertive than Cassie. She was a healer, always patching up injured birds or animals. No matter what, she'd never desert a friend in need, or back down from a fight. In a lot of ways, they're a lot alike."
TJ sighed. "I'm not an expert in this kind of thing, Andros. I can't help you with this. But Tommy, the Red Zeo Ranger, told me that when he was having problems, he went to go see Lita Kino. She's a psychiatrist, and she's made it a point to help Rangers with any of their problems. You should go see her."
"Good idea, TJ," Andros replied. "I'll do that."
Moving into the office, Andros looked around himself nervously. The place was obviously decorated in such a way as to make people feel at ease. There were large windows, lots of plants, and the whole room was done in a pleasing shade of warm brown. At the front desk, a pretty blonde woman was lounging in a chair, talking on the phone.
"Sure, Darian, Chinese sounds good- as long as you pick it up," Serena Kyle replied. She paused in talking to her boyfriend long enough to look Andros over. "Hold on a sec." She put her hand over the mouthpiece. "You're here to see Lita, huh? Go on in." As Andros headed to the door, he heard the secretary resume her conversation. "Remember, it's your turn to feed the cat."
The door to Lita's inner office shut behind him, cutting off Serena's voice. Andros, however, had all his attention taken up by the woman in front of him. The tall dark-haired psychiatrist had a brace of green darts in one hand, and was launching them at a series of pictures on the walls. Looking closer, Andros realized that the pictures were of Rita Repulsa, Mondo, Gasket, and Divatox. Each of the four villains had several darts sticking out of his or her photo. Even as he watched, a dart thudded home between Divatox's eyes.
"You have good aim," Andros said, causing Lita to turn.
"Thanks," she chuckled, setting the darts down on her desk. "It's a wonderful stress reliever. You're- Andros, right? Red Astro?"
She waved her hand at a chair. "Well, have a seat and tell me what the problem is. This is the Power Ranger hour in my schedule, after all."
Sitting down, Andros sighed. "I'm- kind of confused about something, and the guys told me I should come talk to you."
She regarded him for a moment. "Do you know what a psychiatrist is?" she asked suddenly. He shook his head.
"It may just be a linguistic difference, but I don't know the word."
"Psychiatrists are people who are trained in the way the mind works. The human mind, usually, but from what I've seen, the general thought processes of the rest of the galaxy seem to be pretty similar. I am a real doctor, with the general medical training, but I specialize in helping people work out their feelings and understand their confusion."
"I don't think we had anyone like that back on KO-35."
Lita shrugged. "So, what seems to be bothering you?"
He sighed. "Well- did anyone tell you about what happened to the rest of my team?"
"Yes," Lita nodded, "but I'd rather hear it from you."
Andros launched into a description of the events that had led up to his arrival on Earth. The psychiatrist listened closely, nodding her head occasionally as he talked. Finally, he neared the end of his story. "Anyway, even before Cassie took the Pink powers, I was attracted to her, but- I can't be sure whether it's really her I have feelings for, or if it's just a hold over from the way I felt about Deanara."
"Hmm." Lita thought about that. "It is possible. Projection, assigning to someone else feelings or traits that you possess, is very common among people who have had traumatic experiences, especially ones they haven't quite faced up to yet." Andros had to look away as her penetrating green gaze caught his own. "Less common, but not unknown, is identification of one person with another, especially one who has been lost. Such attachments are usually transitory, though, and fade with time. If your feelings for Cassie are simply the result of identifying her with Deanara, then eventually they will fade, leaving you with a friendship. If they're real, though, they will only grow stronger, no matter how much you try to hide them." The psychiatrist smiled at that. "Trust me, I know."
Andros sighed. "Thank you, Dr. Kino. You really have been a big help."
"Hey, it's my job. Come back any time you need to talk, Andros. I'm always here to help. And call me Lita!" Waving at her, he headed out of the office.
"You guys!" Cassie ran into the youth center, practically bubbling over with excitement. "You'll never guess what happened to me!"
"You've been cast in the latest Brad Pitt movie," Carlos offered.
Cassie shook her head. "Better."
"Mmm, you've been offered a job singing at Ernie's Dance Club," hazarded TJ
"Tina Turner wants you to sing backup on her next tour," Ashley guessed.
"Even better- well, maybe not better than that," Cassie confessed. "Brad Stoner asked me out on a date! We're going to dinner at Mario's!"
Andros felt his heart land somewhere around his ankles. With a great effort, he controlled his reactions, schooling his face to appear interested. TJ, beside him, shot a quick look in his direction as if to say he wasn't fooled.
"Wow!" Ashley exclaimed. "That's one of the nicest restaurants in Angel Grove! Man, I hope he's paying!"
"Well, yeah," Cassie snorted. "My allowance isn't THAT big!"
"I- hope you'll have a good time, Cassie," Andros finally managed.
"I will, thanks. I've gotta go. I need to go get ready!" With that, she dashed out the door again, and Andros suddenly found himself the center of attention.
"You idiot!" Ashley hissed. "Why don't you just tell her how you feel?"
Carlos nodded. "Yeah. I know if a girl I liked was going to dinner with somebody else, I'd either confess or rip his head off."
Andros shook his head. "Much as I'd like to do both, I won't. I'm not even sure my feelings for Cassie are real. Even if they are, I'm from another planet. I wouldn't know the first thing about dating, or romance. She deserves a lot better than me."
"Maybe," TJ replied, unconvinced, "but I'm not sure Brad's it."
"I'm not either," acknowledged Andros, his eyes troubled.
"Oh, man!" Cassie puffed. "I have never eaten that much in one sitting before! If I'm not careful, I'm going to turn into a blimp!" The two of them were walking through the park after their dinner. Although it was six o'clock, the summer sunlight was still bright around them.
Brad laughed. "With as much exercise as you get, you'll burn that off before the week is up. Don't worry about it. Everyone's entitled to splurge once in a while."
"I guess you're right." Her eyes went somewhat distant.
"Cassie? Cassie, are you all right?"
"Hmm? Oh, yeah, Brad. I was just thinking. What you said kind of reminded me of Andros. He could certainly use a splurge."
"You think about him a lot, don't you?" The jealousy in the question was audible even to Cassie. She laughed.
"He's my friend! Besides, he's been through a lot of pain recently, and I just want to help him. I've always been the kind of person who fixes the birds with the broken wings. I guess Andros has just become another one of my projects."
"Am I one of your projects?"
"No. I definitely don't feel sorry for you."
Brad smiled. "That's good. I'd hate to think I was taking advantage of you- more than I already am, that is." So saying, he pulled her a little closer and lowered his lips to hers. Suddenly Cassie stopped him, pushing him away gently.
"Sorry, Brad, I don't kiss on the first date," she told him, smiling to take the sting out of her words. He simply stared at her. Suddenly there was a multi-colored flash of light, and the two of them were surrounded by Dark Specter's Quantrons.
"Shit!" Cassie cried, stancing. "Brad, get out of here! I'll hold them off." To her surprise, he began to laugh.
"You don't need to worry, Cassie. They're not here to hurt you. Just call them insurance, to make sure the other Rangers don't interfere with our little talk."
Cassie's eyes narrowed. "Who are you?" she growled.
"My name is Ciaran, and I am a warlock from the Dark Nebula." He bowed, and in a flash of black light, his T-shirt and jeans changed to long dark robes. "Dark Specter asked me to destroy the Power Rangers for him. As payment, I get to keep you alive."
"Get bent," Cassie snapped, not dropping her stance for a second.
"Listen to what I have to offer, Cassie. I will share my power with you, equally. You will have command over magic, equal to what I possess, and you will be Queen of the Dark Nebula. Together, you and I will rule! Eternal life, eternal power, by my side! What do you say?"
"Here's what I say, creep," she snarled. "Let's Rocket!" In a flash, her Astro Morpher appeared on her wrist. Before she could type in the access code, the tree nearest to her suddenly moved around to wrap her wrists in its branches.
"Ah, ah, ah, Cassie," Ciaran admonished, stepping closer. "I'm afraid it's not that easy." Closing his eyes, he began to chant in a language so blackly evil, Cassie was glad that she couldn't understand it. Crossing her fingers, she began to pray that her friends would find her, and soon.
The other four Rangers were sitting together in the youth center when their communicators toned. Quickly, they made their way to the hallway generally used for such purposes. "We read you, DECA," Andros responded. "What's up?"
"There is a large concentration of evil energy in the park," the spaceship computer replied. "Cassie is nearby, and I am unable to contact her. There also seems to be something blocking the Power Chamber's sensors and communications."
"So whatever it is, we're on our own," Carlos finished. "This is not good."
"Right, DECA. We'll check it out. Keep an eye on us, and be ready to pull us out if things go wrong." Andros looked at his four friends. "Let's Rocket!" In four flashes of light, the Astro Rangers morphed and were teleported to Angel Grove Park.
The first thing that met the Rangers' eyes when they rematerialized was a black pillar of flame in front of a tree. From within the flames came screaming, and it was in Cassie's voice.
"Cassie!" Blue Astro cried, stepping forward. He was quickly intercepted, however, by a dark form stepping out of the shadows.
"Sorry, TJ. I'm afraid she's a little busy at the moment," Ciaran replied with a grin. "You'll have to content yourselves with me."
"What have you done to her?" Yellow Astro asked. "And who are you, anyway? You're definitely not from Texas."
"Allow me to introduce myself. I am Ciaran, the most powerful, most feared warlock in the entire Dark Nebula. I have been hired by Dark Specter to destroy you, and in payment, I get to make your Pink Ranger my queen."
"Over my dead body," Red Astro snarled. "I swear to you, if you've hurt her, I will rip your black heart out with my bare hands."
Ciaran raised an eyebrow. "Who's supposed to be the embodiment of evil around here, anyway?" he asked mockingly. "It's too bad you don't have any magical talent, Red Ranger. I'd be more than willing to take you on as my apprentice."
"We won't let you take any of our friends," Black Astro interjected.
"Well, why don't we just ask Cassie what she wants?" replied the warlock genially, turning to where the black flames died out. Cassie stood before them, the branches no longer pinning her wrists, and she appeared to be unhurt.
"Cassie?" Yellow Astro asked cautiously, taking a small step forward. Cassie raised her head, and the four Astro Rangers gasped in unison. Cassie's eyes were no longer the warm dark brown that they had been this morning. Instead, they glowed coldly yellow, disconcerting doubles to Ciaran's own.
"Son of a-" Blue Astro's voice trailed off, but his sentiment was clear.
"I'm through with you losers," Cassie sneered, fixing them all with her cold new gaze. "I'm going to be a queen, and I don't need to deal with weaklings like you!"
"Cassie," Black Astro entreated, "please, listen to us! Ciaran's controlling you! You have to fight it- umph!" His words cut off as Cassie flung a ball of black fire at him.
"Shut up, pathetic Ranger," she growled. "I have control of the magic of the Dark Nebula! I don't need your help!"
"Then we're gonna have to stop you," Yellow Astro replied. "For your own good." She and Blue Astro charged Cassie simultaneously, hoping to get hold of her arms. Cassie merely laughed, and with an unintelligible word, threw them both back away from her.
"Cassie! You have to listen to me," Red Astro pleaded, falling back from her, making no attempt to fight. "We're your friends, remember? We're a team! You told me once yourself, we have to stick together. Please, Cassie, don't- urk!" His voice cut off as she reached out and grabbed him by the throat.
"I don't think so," she snarled. "I'm not letting anyone take anything away from me again! The power will never abandon me, not like my "loving" parents. And if you get in my way, I will destroy you." Her eyes flashed and she dropped him.
On his knees, clutching his throat, Red Astro tried one more time. "Cassie-" he croaked.
"Power of Darkness, Spirits of Night, come to my call, make this Ranger take flight!" At the last word of the incantation, Red Astro flew back across the park, striking his head against a tree, hard. Pain exploded through his brain, and then everything went dark.
Pain. That was the first thing Andros was aware of as he made his way back to consciousness. He had a headache that could cut steel. The second was something soft beneath him, meaning that he was no longer in the park. Third was the voices of his friends, talking quietly around them. Opening his eyes slowly, he searched for something culturally appropriate to say. "Aw, man," he groaned, sitting up slowly. "Anybody get the number of that bus?"
"Whoa, take it easy, buddy," TJ cautioned, helping Andros sit up. The injured Red Astro Ranger looked around him, realizing that he was in the medical bay of the Astro Megaship. Carlos and Ashley watched him with concern.
"Where's Cassie?" he asked, noticing the distinct lack of pink.
"After you- checked out on us," Carlos replied, "she and Ciaran disappeared, saying they'd be back. I think Cassie was a little drained from using those new weird powers," he continued.
"Yes, as a human, it would be stressful on her at first," Andros agreed. "Humans generally aren't all that open to magic, although Rangers are of necessity more open than most. Still, it'll take time for Cassie to adjust to the flow of energy inside her."
"What was that guy?" Ashley asked, changing the subject. "He wasn't just an ordinary monster."
Andros shook his head. "I've heard of him. Ciaran is a warlock, which means he is a magic-user who focuses his power primarily by the means of incantations. Stuff for minor spells, like blowing me across the park, can be made up on the spur of the moment, but the major ones have to come from a book."
"A grimoire," TJ offered. The other three looked at him. "I did a project on witches in eighth grade," he replied. "A grimoire is a witch's spell book, used to record incantations, recipes, that sort of thing."
"Yes, this would be similar. Ciaran has shared his ability with Cassie, putting her under a mental control at the same time. The longer she's with him, and the more power she uses, the further into the darkness she'll fall. Eventually, there'll be nothing left of her."
"Then we've got to find her," Carlos cried. "As soon as possible."
"You'd better stay here, Andros," added Ashley. "You're not in any shape for another fight."
"No." Andros' voice was firm and implacable. "I'm not getting left behind again. We're none of us ready or even capable of defeating Ciaran and Cassie yet, even if we could lure them out. We have to wait until the sun comes up, when we'll have the advantage. Ashley, why don't you call Cassie's house and say she's sleeping over? Her parents will probably swallow that without a problem."
"Right. I'll go use the com system." She left, and Andros looked at his other two friends.
"In the meantime, I suggest we all get some sleep. We've got a long day ahead of us tomorrow."
Ashley woke up at the sound of feet padding down the corridor. Andros had fixed the three of them up in the rooms that had once been occupied by the other Astro Guardians, so that they could be ready to take on Cassie and Ciaran in the morning. First, though, they had all gone home and pretended to go to bed, so that their parents wouldn't worry about them.
Levering herself out of her bunk, Ashley moved out into the corridor. The door to the nearest room was open slightly, and she could see a light shining faintly inside. The pink trim on the door identified it as the one room that wasn't occupied. Puzzled, she made her way to the door and looked in.
Andros sat on the bed, head in his hands, staring at a vase full of roses that sat on the bedside table. Unlike the rooms that the three Astro Rangers had occupied, this one wasn't stripped bare. Instead, it looked as if its owner had just stepped out for a few minutes. ~ That can't be healthy,~ Ashley thought to herself. Rapping on the doorframe, she stepped inside.
"You all right?" she asked quietly, sitting beside him on the bed. He looked up at her approach, then back at the roses again.
"I'm scared, Ashley. I can't go through this again. I can't lose another person to Dark Specter."
"Especially not Cassie," she finished.
"Yes. I mean no. I mean- aw, I don't know. I have feelings for Cassie, but I don't know what they are, or whether they're real or not." Quickly, he told her about Deanara, and all of his concerns about his feelings for Cassie. "I just- don't know anything anymore."
"I can't help you there, Andros," Ashley replied sympathetically. "This is something you're going to have to figure out on your own. But whatever you do feel for Cassie, I think that's what's going to bring her back to us. We have to reach her, make her remember how much we all care about her."
Andros nodded. "You're right, Ashley, thanks. You'd better go back and get some sleep. We'll need to be fresh in the morning to take on Ciaran."
"I will," she replied, rising to her feet. "You just be sure to take your own advice."
He chuckled. "Yes, ma'am," he grinned, watching her walk out. Then his eyes fell back on the vase full of roses. They were beginning to wilt, but the scent was still as strong as ever. Suddenly a memory rose up, Cassie's voice echoing in his mind.
~ 'The unexplained scent of roses in the air can be a sign that a ghost is present.'~ He sighed.
"Too many ghosts on this ship, Cassie, and too many haunting me. I won't let you become another one."
"Andros," DECA's voice broke in quietly, "it is now dawn in Angel Grove."
He rose to his feet. "Then it's time to go. DECA, after I leave, lock down all teleportation from the Megaship. It's better if I handle this alone."
Taking a deep breath, he nodded. "Time to put my plan into action. Let's Rocket!"
Red Astro looked around the park. The sun was beginning to peek over the horizon, and all around him, he could hear the sounds of Angel Grovites going about their business, even so early. After his appearance, of course, most of the joggers had cleared out of the park in a hurry. Red Astro chuckled slightly. He didn't think he'd ever seen anyone move that fast.
"Well, well. If it isn't the leader of the Astro Rangers," a cold voice sneered behind him. Red Astro turned to see Ciaran leaning against a tree, regarding him as though he was some new breed of insect. "Come back for another whipping?"
"I want to talk to Cassie," Red Astro replied, not rising to Ciaran's bait. "Where is she?"
"Sleeping," the warlock chuckled, an extremely devilish grin spreading across his face. Red Astro took an involuntary step forward, clenching his fists before he caught himself.
"Don't get your tights in a knot," Ciaran continued, amused. "She's just a little worn out from her first brush with the power. We haven't had time to- properly celebrate yet."
Red Astro snarled, and began calling Ciaran every type of gutter name he could think of. Having spent the past year trailing Dark Specter through every dive in the galaxy, that was quite an impressive list. The warlock blinked.
"Well, that's quite a mouth you've got, Red Ranger. Time for me to shut it." Red Astro braced himself, but the bolt of black fire that Ciaran launched at him still sent him reeling back across the ground. As Red Astro struggled to get to his feet, he could hear the warlock begin to chant, and he recognized the spell.
~ Traumatis Memoriam,~ Red Astro realized with horror. It was an extremely common spell, widely used by villainous mages, primarily because it was so effective. It plunged the victim into his or her worst memories, until he or she found the courage and power to break the spell.
Leaping to his feet, Red Astro began to run towards Ciaran, hoping to interrupt the incantation, but he was too slow. He had barely made it within five feet of the spell-caster when a black flame erupted from the ground beneath him, and he knew no more.
"Oh, my head." Andros groaned, sitting up. "Where am I? What happened?" Then he remembered. He had insisted on accompanying his friends to meet Dark Specter's challenge. Rather than let him go, Bran had shoved him into a coldsleep tank and informed DECA to freeze him until they returned.
"DECA! Where's Bran? I am going to give that guy SUCH a dressing-down!"
The computer voice was silent for a moment, then replied softly. "The other Astro Guardians have not returned to the Megaship," she informed him.
Andros felt a chill race down his spine. "Then why was I awakened?"
"My instructions were to awaken you when the Guardians returned, or when their transformation tools did," DECA replied. "Five minutes ago, four wristbands appeared on the bridge."
The deck suddenly seemed to heave under Andros' feet. The others had jettisoned their wristbands? That was only done in the case of capture or- he shook his head. They must have been captured, that's all there was too it.
"DECA, bring up a display of KO-35. We need to scan the planet for wherever Dark Specter may have taken them."
"Regrettably, Andros, that is neither possible no necessary."
He frowned. "DECA, what do you mean?"
"We are no longer in orbit around KO-35. Instead, we are on course for Eltare, where the ship can fuel up and take on supplies."
"Why did we leave?" Andros was getting tired of getting the run-around from the ship's computer, and it showed in his voice.
"There is no life anywhere on the planet, Andros. Dark Specter activated his machine, and wiped everything out." Andros suddenly felt numb. Everyone- his friends, his family, his planet, all dead? It was too much for him to take in. Forcing his thoughts away from that, he moved to concentrate on the situation at hand- rescuing the other Astro Guardians.
"Well, why aren't we following Dark Specter, then? He must have the others on his ship!"
"I am afraid not, Andros. I was monitoring the battle. They are all dead."
Another wave of numbing cold swept over him. "Show me," he ordered.
"I do not believe that that would be wise-"
A screen to his left clicked on. He watched in impassive silence as the other Astro Guardians challenged Dark Specter's two lieutenants, Ecliptor and Astronoma. The battle was brutal, and far too short. Wave after wave of Quantrons assailed the four heroes, and although the Astro Guardians worked together perfectly, the flow never seemed to stop. Andros' jaw clenched as he saw Saoirse cut to pieces by the Quantrons, and Ecliptor disintegrate Daithi, who was trying to save her, with a casual laser blast.
Meanwhile, Astronoma approached Bran, who was on his knees, held exhausted by a pair of Quantrons. Andros could see that his oldest friend was bleeding from a hundred different places, but he still possessed the defiance to stare Astronoma straight in the eye.
"You're quite a fighter, Black Guardian," she cooed. "Someone like you could go far in Dark Specter's service."
"I'd rather be food for a sea snake," he snarled. Astronoma chuckled, reaching out and taking his helmet off.
"That's what I thought you'd say," she told him. "A pity that someone so handsome has to die."
His eyes narrowed. "Just kill me and get it over with, witch."
"Be patient," she whispered. "You'll get your wish." Leaning over, she kissed him, hard. He tried to pull away, but a hand behind his head held him in place. While she kissed him, Astronoma pulled a blaster from her hip and fired, three times. Bran slumped to the ground, dead. "Sleep well, warrior," she whispered. Holstering her weapon, she turned back to the fight.
There wasn't much of that left. Deanara was never the strongest fighter on the team, and now she was exhausted. At a signal from Ecliptor, the Quantrons backed away. Slowly, the exhausted Pink Astro Guardian stood, her head held defiantly.
"Where is the Red Guardian?" Ecliptor asked.
"Go kiss Lord Zedd," she shot back. A beam of green energy shot out, enveloping her, and she fell to the ground, screaming.
"Where is the Red Guardian?" persisted Ecliptor, moving closer. Her response was unprintable.
"Such spirit," the villain laughed. "I can keep you ali