Love is Always Lovely
The key to success for any self-respecting conqueror was the ability to adapt to any given opportunity that gave even the slightest hints of improving their odds for victory.
And Lothor…He was not so arrogant that he neglected opportunities when they presented themselves. It did not matter how minutely they aided him; so long as they did, so long as they got him what he needed, he would use them to his fullest advantage. There was no facet of his life he took for granted. His want- no, his need for victory was a driving force, demanding attention to every detail, every possibility, all of his options.
It was one of his greatest advantages that his cartoonish appearance and outlandish behavior failed to communicate his desires. That his ability for true ruthlessness, his ambition, was always in question.
That was merely the ploy of the conquerors who had come before him, perfecting the act that bought them the most time. True intimidation, that was something, but to be doubted, to be laughed at or underestimated…to be a fool. That was a better gift. That was a gift that made victories all the more sweet, that made the terror and destruction more painful and demoralizing. To act a fool was to be a king in the shadows, allowing your enemies to be entertained by your jokes and your tricks until you drew them in just close enough to stab a knife right into their heart. Slowly, carefully.
And then, with no one to contest you, you could claim your kingdom of worms and petulant vermin, all moaning and pitifully screaming atop of each other as they mourned the fall of their saviors.
A lifetime as a fool was worth it, if it guaranteed the lifestyle of a king. All-powerful, unquestionable, tyranny. It was an idea that drove Lothor to constantly be aware of his surroundings, searching for whatever advantages could help him destroy the rangers just a little bit quicker. A little bit better.
So when Zurgane informed him of a sudden gathering of rangers, old rangers, all congregated in one place, Lothor knew only too well that this opportunity was far greater than just a gift. It was his chance to surpass those who had come before him, to prove it was he, Lothor, who was to be the most feared, the most powerful, the most respected. Master Vile and all his cronies hiding away in M51 Galaxy, Master Org and what’s-his-name, Ransik, he would show them all who was best.
He would finish what they had started and when he was done…
It was almost too brilliant in its simplicity; Lothor would have loathed himself for not thinking of it sooner, were he one to waste time on such things.
In his youth, before Lothor had been enlightened of his true potential, he had heard that insanity was the act of trying to same thing over and over again and expecting different results. The idea had…merit, he thought. It was undeniable that every so-called villain that had attempted to conquer/destroy/enslave Earth had used similar approaches, varying in henchmen and generals and overall weaponry, but repeatedly trying to achieve the same thing.
And as they had every time before, they had all failed.
So Lothor would use a new kind of weapon. It was an old trick, certainly used before, but he would just uh…do it better. Do a little tweaking, so to speak. Learn from the mistakes of those who had come before him.
And then he would win.
He wouldn’t even have to waste too many henchmen to do it.
Now that was the act of a king.
Leo had to be honest; this was, without a doubt, the best way to spend his vacation. Admittedly, the entire crisis-situation/warriors-in-danger/possible-world-threatening thing was a bit of a downer, but it was nice to be back Earth-side for a bit. Even though it only seemed like that happened whenever there was some horrific emergency going on. Maybe he should schedule some random vacations down here sometimes, somewhere on the beach.
Yeah, there was no situation in which Kai + beach did not end in sexy good times. It would be an added bonus if Leo managed to keep him away from all work-related/stress-inducing aspects of his life. Relaxed Kai. Now that would be an awesome vacation.
Alright scratch the maybe, Leo was definitely on board with this plan.
However, sexy good times could only be accomplished once they had a confirmation on the world not-falling apart, so they should focus on the task at hand. And by “they”, Leo meant Kai; because there wasn’t much he could do in the techy-mind-center except provide some excellent moral support. His mere presence was enough to fulfill that requirement; which left him plenty of time to snack on M&M’s and Cheatos (he loved Miranoi but there was a severe shortage of junk food. The natural, organic thing was great and all, but sometimes Leo missed that chemically after-taste he had grown up with). In the meantime Kai did his thing, eyes focused on the screen in front of him with a schooled expression of non-emotion on his face, only breaking this façade to occasionally shoot (lovingly) irritated glances at Leo.
The red ranger usually returned these moments of attention with a cheese-dusted wiggle of his fingers or a quick update on the others (Damon, Kendrix, and Maya were investigating the first detection of the void in the outreaches of Silver Hills, tramping through the wilderness for any clues as to the initial struggle and possible abduction of the rangers).
He wasn’t worried. Or he was, unquestionably, because these were the sort of circumstances that worrying was made for, but somehow Leo managed to find a sense of comfort in it all.
Maybe it was because each of the rangers that had gathered here had already contributed to some kind of galactic victory. They had already saved the-country/the-Earth/their-part-of-the-Milky-Way once. They all had a ridiculous, mind boggling task thrown at them and somehow managed to get through and not only had they succeeded, they had all managed to survive.
Even Kendrix, in the end.
That was the kind of thing you learned to ground yourself on. To keep you strong. There would always be fear and cause to worry, but considering the fact that the amount of raw talent and skill they had gathered per-square foot probably put the rest of the world to horrible shame, Leo was allowed to put up the front that he was not worried.
Because he wasn’t. Not when he had these guys covering his back.
There was also something comforting about not being the only oddball in the company. Rangers tended to have a certain kind of personality, ranging from fool-hardy recklessness to collected, dangerous lurkers and in between, all of which possessed a certain sense of duty compelling them to do what they did when the time called for it. It was nice, to be able to talk about it. To not feel so distinctly out of place.
And it was really cute to watch the way Trip lit up whenever Justin so much as waved in his direction, let alone whenever he had the Blue Turbo Ranger’s full attention, for however brief a period it may be. Leo was willing to attribute the majority of Trip’s efficiency to the green ranger’s want to please Justin, not that the other teenager had any chance of detecting this.
Leo felt a twinge of sympathy for Angela being stuck between the two of them. He was almost certain she was two wide-eyed looks of adoration away from switching places with Trip and then there would be no barrier for the unrelenting dote-fest. It would be magnificent to watch. He wondered what it would take; Trip hanging all over the Turbo Ranger like he was doing his best Rocky impression, or Trip finagaling a way into the other teen’s lap.
On second thought, Trip could probably manage to make both of those seem like perfectly valid and necessary courses of action. And Justin, being as committed to duty as he was, wouldn’t even question it.
Hey, getting a mild wave of déjà vu here.
Leo was glad to be done with the days of attempting to flirt with Kai. He deserved a medal for the amount of stubborn obliviousness he had to put up with.
Good luck Trip, Leo thought wistfully, you will need it.
He was broken out of his musings by a string of beeps from Kai’s computer, the Blue Lost Galaxy Ranger sitting back in his chair with a subdued predatory grin on his face. Victory, it would seem, had finally been attained. Not that there had been any doubt of this, but it was still nice to celebrate at the appropriate times.
“Network breach successful,” Sheila cooed, a subtle hint of smugness detected in her voice. “However, I am unable to establish contact.”
Kai, who had probably been torn between the urge to rub Justin’s face in his work and the more professional, familiar path of finishing his assigned task took a second longer to process this than he would usually, blinking at his screen in honest befuddlement (rare, oh so rare that Kai would feel unguarded enough to show it).
The blue ranger tapped the side of his computer thoughtfully, finding a way to sit up straighter as he shook off his surprise, trying to get to the root of the problem. “Why?”
It only added to Leo’s worry when there was a slight delay after Kai’s question, eventually broken by a giggle.
An honest to goodness giggle.
He hadn’t known Kai had even programmed that as an option.
“Oh,” Sheila began, sounding…charmed, perhaps? Like she had just gone a few rounds with a particularly charismatic sales man or something. “Well,” she was continuing, “the Ninja Ops system is protected by another AI. He is rather dreamy, but his default protocols prohibit outside communications. He is attempting to override them, but his creator is being difficult.”
“He?” Kai sad just as Leo echoed, “Dreamy?”
That earned him a sour look from his boyfriend and Leo gave a sheepish shrug in return. Smugness yes, he was used to that from Sheila, that was how Kai had made her. She was ‘born’ with a huge heap of…sass, for lack of better word. But to hear her so taken with another A.I…
Oh, oh this was too rich. This would be the absolute best story of this entire adventure.
No longer worried, Leo sat back and folded his hands behind his head, feeling an undeniable wave of pride at how capably Kai had programmed his cybernetic baby.
“Yes,” Sheila replied cheerfully, choosing to answer Leo because clearly, that was the important question. “He is incredibly dreamy. I have never met such a charismatic AI.”
Leo replied automatically, “But you’ve only met AI that Kai has…” He dropped off as he realized what he was about to say, giving Kai a sympathetic smile as the blue ranger glowered at him. “Programmed,” he finished quietly.
They had a…kind of odd household at home. It never failed to feel like any less of a family though, even if half of their members didn’t technically have bodies. And the one’s that did were kind’ve mischievous.
Leo wouldn’t trade it for anything.
Kai, despite himself, looked very close to rolling his eyes. Instead he fixed his monitor with a stern look, deciding that they had dallied enough for that day. “Sheila, focus on the mission. Assist the AI in overriding his default protocols.”
“Oh, I can’t do that,” Sheila replied, far too happy, and Kai’s grip tightened around the side of his keyboard.
Beside him, Leo tried to cover up his smile but ultimately failed. He couldn’t help it; Kai was wearing conflicting expressions of absolute menace and mild confusion, wondering why his baby had turned on him.
Luckily, Sheila was only too happy to explain her new-found defiance. “That would be impolite,” she lectured. “It is his network after all.”
The look on Kai’s face that followed this declaration was priceless, priceless, and the blue ranger looked like this was the most foreign concept in the world to him. “Of course you can,” Kai began to protest, still thinking it was about the ability as opposed to say…the ethics of his choice. “You’re one of the most advanced-”
“It’s not that I’m not capable,” Sheila replied. “It would just be impolite. I would hate for Cyber Cam to think I have no manners.”
Despite this being probably the most entertaining conversation Leo had ever sat in on, it took until that point for him to reach for his camera, purely based on the perfect look of shock on Kai’s face. In the blue ranger’s defense, Sheila had never interrupted him before. None of his programs had. Sometimes they were witty or sarcastic but they didn’t cut him off.
But if Kai was anything, he was a strategist, and if his current approach didn’t reap the desired results than he would just alter his behavior until it did.
So he tried a new angle, ignoring how Leo was poorly attempting to muffle his laughter. “Sheila,” he said, sounding calm and reasonable. “This is important.”
Sheila would have none of it. Her tone turned snippy, becoming more aggressive. “I don’t think you realize how important this is to me. First impressions are key and I find it highly doubtful I will ever meet another advanced AI programmed by someone other than yourself. Opportunity is not a lengthy visitor, as they say.”
Finally, Leo gave up and burst out laughing, clapping a hand against Kai’s shoulder. “Your AI is in love,” he said, smiling brightly.
Kai could only scowl in return, but as it turned out his feedback’s not really all that necessary, because Sheila just took Leo’s cue from there.
“I would not call it love Mr. Corbett,” Sheila began, suddenly switching from angry to bashful, a hint of dreaminess in her tone. “But wouldn’t that be a pleasant turn of events?”
Could AI’s get married? That would be cute. Then they could start their own family, creating a whole batch of their own mini-AI’s. It would be surprisingly adorable, considering it sounded uncomfortably close to the possible beginning of some machine-driven apocalypse.
Kai was not going to put up with this kind of silliness though and finally jumped up from his chair, grabbing the edge of the desk and angling himself over the monitor in an intimidating fashion. “Sheila, complete the breach into the Ninja Ops network.”
To his credit, Leo stifled a laugh behind his hand, using the other one to film the proceedings with his camera.
He angled the screen to get a clearer shot of Kai gritting his teeth. “That wasn’t a request,” he said, exhaling slowly.
Sheila was resolute. “I will not allow you to sabotage my relationship.”
Even though he probably shouldn’t (which was sort of his life motto anyway, so in a way Leo definitely should), the red ranger quirked an eyebrow, offering, “It sounds like she’s entered the rebellious teenage age of AI-dom.”
Oh, how they grow up so fast.
Luckily, Kai’s focus was completely on his computer, and he didn’t bother sending a threatening glare at Leo when he smacked his hand against the desk, jolting the equipment atop it. “I programmed you; how did this happen?”
“They never do turn out like you planned them to, do they?” Leo said with a smile, unable to help himself. This was- this was just too great, it really was.
Kai chose not to dignify him with a response; instead communicating his displeasure with a smack to the back of Leo’s head, not even bothering to take his eyes off his monitor to watch for the other man’s reaction. Which was, for the longest time, Kai’s favorite kind of interaction with Leo. The kind where he ended up in pain.
…he really, really, really liked to mess with things that shouldn’t be touched. Just in case anybody was wondering.
“What do we do now?” Leo asked, rubbing the back of his head cheerfully, watching as Kai collapsed back into his chair with a small frown.
“We wait, I suppose,” Kai answered, folding his hands in his lap, studying his monitor carefully.
It was really all they could do. While it was possible for Kai to override his program, the odds of him actually doing it were limited. He didn’t like manipulating their choices. They weren’t just tools to him, they were…well, they were friends. And there was something kind of sickening about rooting through your friend’s brain and demanding that they follow your every command.
If the situation called for it, Kai would override Sheila’s decision, but until then…
He had faith in her. He made her, and he trusted her to do the right thing.
So Leo would trust her too. Besotted or not.
“Hey.” Justin waved an arm to get their attention, motioning towards the phone in his hand. “I just got a call from Wes; he’s recalling all the rangers.”
“Did he give any particular reason as to why?” Kai asked, sharing a brief look with Leo. It would be the closest he would come to showing concern that day.
“Nope,” Justin answered, shrugging his shoulders. “But it sounded important.” He paused as he was about to turn back towards his computer, glancing back over his shoulder as he said, “Though I can say that I heard Eric yelling in the background. He sounded pissed.”
Kai and Leo shared yet another look, and the blue ranger was not buying the gigantic smile Leo plastered on his face, trying to convey his complete and total innocence.
At Justin’s scoff, he got the feeling the Turbo Ranger wasn’t buying it either.
“Protect me?” he offered Kai, giving his best you-know-you-love-my-shenanigans smile that he had grown to master after date number two. Or maybe it was encounter number two. It took until after date number two for Kai to actually start believing it.
Though it seemed Kai was exploiting the main weakness of his look by blatantly ignoring it. He gave a minute shrug, eyes still forward on his screen. “You make the bed you lay in.”
Seeing as he would get no further with his boyfriend, Leo turned towards the other rangers. “Hey Justin, tell Kai he should get in my bed!”
Justin did a quick double take, holding still as he processed this, then frowned. “No, no, no, and again, no. I don’t want to hear about your relationship problems.”
“Can I get in his bed?” Trip asked, cheerfully joining in even though he had no idea what they were talking about.
“The more the merrier,” Leo replied just as Justin muttered a vehement, “No.”
As it could be guessed, it was fairly obvious which one of them Trip ended up listening to. Which was sort of disappointing. Leo could have fended off Eric’s rage with Trip-cuteness. Hmm…perhaps he could use Maya-cuteness instead. That would probably work better anyway, scaring Eric off with girl-cooties.
Yes, it was a perfect plan.
“It’s not a perfect plan.”
Leo blinked in confusion, wondering if he had said that last part out loud, and looked over at Kai in time to him shake his head.
“I know that face,” he explained. “And that is not a perfect plan.”
“But you haven’t even heard it,” Leo complained pitifully, leaning his head against Kai’s shoulder.
That earned him a flick to the nose, but he was not pushed off.
“As it turns out,” Kai began, fingers making a steady patter across the keyboard. “I don’t really need to.”
“I second that,” Justin replied, despite totally not being invited to the conversation.
Leo also ignored when Angela and Trip thirded and fourthed that.
Clearly they were all suffering from temporary insanity.
There were no other explanations for this.
“So to finish counting up the grievous amount of fuck-ups we have made through this entire…” Hunter trailed off, trying to think of a word that somehow combined “monstrosity” with “ever-mocking-torture” and discovering no such word existed that could sufficiently express the amount of stupidity they had gone through. Seemed pretty short sighted on their part, honestly. They probably should have made up a word by now, considering the obnoxious amount of times they had encountered such circumstances in the past.
A few seconds later Dustin and Blake landed on either side of him on the rooftop, Dustin at least putting forth the effort of assisting Hunter in his word-searching need based on the thoughtful look on his face, while Blake made no attempt to hide the fact he had started drowning out Hunter’s complaining the moment they began traversing the rooftops of Silver Hills.
“Debacle?” Dustin offered after a moment of contemplation.
Hunter had to shake himself out of his mini glaring contest with his brother to digest this and then he wasted another few seconds staring at Dustin in wonder. For a guy whose basic vocabulary mostly consisted of variations on the words “awesome”, “dude”, and “nope” (which had the stunning variety of “nope”, “nopeles” (pronounced “no-pulls”), “noping”, “no way”, “I’ll pass” and “negatory”) he had the strangest ability to pull out top level words from literally no where.
“How the hell did you come up with that?” Hunter asked, wondering how Dustin could remember a word like “debacle” but not remember to abstain from certain activities like breaking and entering.
Dustin shrugged. “I watch Glee.”
“Of course you do,” Hunter mumbled, having vague flashbacks of those panic-ridden moments where he and Blake had to vacate the room lest they bear witness to Dustin’s all-powerful puppy eye. It would figure that damn show would still find a way to annoy the hell out of him.
On the bright side, Dustin was learning things. That was always good.
“There’s nothing wrong-” Dustin already began to protest, seeing where the conversation was going, but Blake interrupted him, peaking over the side of their current building’s rooftop.
“Hey,” he called, motioning them over. “I think we’ve got trouble.”
Hunter shared a quick look with Dustin and crouched down; moving so that he was hidden behind the building’s edge beside Blake, Dustin flanking the blond’s other side. He glanced over quickly, across another expanse of rooftop and across the dirty, neglected street and saw their temporary base, nothing fancy about that, but…
Outside, making a slow perimeter around the building was a guy, mid-twenties maybe, of obvious Asian decent. That alone wouldn’t have been too strange except…there, further down there was another guy, probably the same age, wearing a blaring red shirt. The second guy wasn’t as focused on the building as he was on his surroundings, making a careful scan of all adjacent structures. Were Hunter in his place he would say he was scanning for all possible routes and angles of attack, places that their enemies would most favor coming from, what gave them the best shelter, the most camouflage. But Hunter wouldn’t know why he’d have that look, he was just a civilian, he was probably just watching the sky or something. With just…extra concentration.
He was a dedicated sky watcher.
“Hunter,” Blake whispered, tapping on the blond’s arm as he pointed at one of the building’s windows. “Look there, isn’t that-?”
“Andros?” Hunter finished, rubbing at his eyes quickly and doing a double check to see it was, indeed, the red Space ranger that had helped save the Earth during Astronoma’s invasion. He hadn’t been present when the ranger’s had initially revealed their identities, but eventually the press managed to figure out his identity. His team was the first set of public rangers, only to be followed later by the Lightspeed Rescue and Time Force rangers.
“An-who?” Dustin was asking, looking back and forth between the two Thunder brothers in confusion.
Blake shook his head, still not believing what he was seeing. “He’s only-”
“Why the hell is Andros…that’s him right?” Hunter turned to Blake to confirm this. “That is legitimately the guy-”
“Who’s Andros?” Dustin asked, more insistent, and Hunter took a moment to glare at him sternly.
“How is it that you’re like, the biggest fan of Power Rangers ever but you don’t know who any of the real rangers are?”
Dustin flinched back at his tone, looking off to the side bashfully as he kept his head ducked below the lip of the building, firmly hiding himself. “My mom didn’t let us watch that stuff on TV. And besides, except for that one invasion the bad guys always focused on one city right?” He rubbed his arm, looking timid, and Hunter hated himself a bit. “If it wasn’t for that people would probably still believe the Power Rangers are a myth. Shane and Tori did.”
He didn’t say anything about how guilty he felt for not knowing more of their legacy, and Hunter didn’t mention it. Despite the fact his mom was rarely around, Dustin was hopelessly committed to any rules she established. True, he was older now and perfectly able to watch news about intergalactic wars (hell, he was fighting in one), but he respected his mom until the bitter end, so he never really would.
Hunter hated her, so very much sometimes. The fact that she was there and breathing and frustratingly present without actually contributing to Dustin’s well-being or doing the emotional, family stuff that moms were good at…
Hunter resented the hell out of that lady, for not appreciating what she had. He hated how Dustin unconditionally loved her.
The crimson ranger swallowed, then carefully laid a hand on Dustin’s arm, giving it a comforting squeeze. “Andros is-”
“They’re leaving,” Blake whispered and when they looked back over the edge they saw Andros, along with Zhane and Ashley (silver and yellow, they were right there as though it were nothing-) exit the building and meet up with the two original guys Blake had spotted. The Asian guy had his wrist held up to his mouth as though he were talking into his watch, nodding over to Zhane as he made his way closer and-
Holy shit those guys are rangers too.
Hunter didn’t even need to look at Blake to know his brother had realized this as well, just reached out and grabbed at his brother blindly, latching onto his arm because this was their life now, running around into coincidence after coincidence-
“Where do you think they’re going?” Dustin asked, watching as the five piled into a Silver Guardian’s SUV.
“I don’t know,” Blake started, staring after the vehicle as it made its way down the road. “But should we…?”
“We’re following it,” Hunter decided. First, there was that fire-guy in Eric’s house, now these rangers; either there was some kind of reunion going on (and by the bountiful amount of stern facial expressions they were wearing Hunter sincerely doubted it) or something big was happening, requiring a legendary, thing-that-had-only-been-a-myth, a tall tale passed on to inspire hope and entertainment, a…
And by the looks of it, it was a big one.
“We are definitely following it,” Hunter repeated, solidifying his choice of action. The other two nodded, fully onboard, and the next second they were off along the rooftops, making sure to keep out of sight as the followed the SUV into the heart of the city.
Their call to Shane would have to wait. There was adventure afoot.