Because Everyone Likes Sunshine
“No,” Cam muttered, both hands having finally migrated towards his forehead in an attempt to minimize the damage of his slowly growing headache.
“No,” Cam echoed, resolute, and surrendered to the purposeless desire to glare at his monitor, though he knew very well Cyber Cam would simply elect not to acknowledge him, as he had done for the past hour.
“You could let me finish,” the AI complained, sounding put off. “My arguments are actually-”
His eye was beginning to twitch. He was tense and remarkably displeased and not even Tori or Shane could manage the levity to take pictures of it; that was how anxious the atmosphere inside Ninja Ops had become.
“It’s for loooooove,” Cyber Cam complained, bemoaning the cruelty of his programmer, causing Cam to valiantly fight the urge to roll his eyes. This behavior had surpassed ridiculous fifty minutes ago; now it was just tedious.
“Team first,” Cam repeated stubbornly, reminding Cyber Cam of his priorities. “Family first, our protection-”
“She isn’t with the bad guys!” Cyber Cam protested, sounding deceivingly close to the ends of his wits. Cam knew better though; the program had greater patience and stamina than he would ever posses.
He closed his eyes slowly, willing away the newest onslaught of frustration-induced tension. “You only know what she has told you. She could be programmed-”
“Again with the programming nonsense! Don’t you trust me? Doesn’t my judgment count for something-?”
“We have to be sure!” Cam declared, slamming his palm down on his desk, causing his keyboard and mouse to shudder at the impact. Behind him he heard Tori move forward to comfort him, to do something, but Shane must’ve held her back, knowing better than to interfere right now. Even if Cam and his program were stuck at an impasse, it was theirs and they would deal with it accordingly.
Were he able to Cam he would have shut down Cyber Cam back when this first started and, had he been truly compromised, the green ranger would have. The tech had installed a safety measure after the first time Cyber Cam had gone rogue that would effectively shut him down should he attempt to completely diverge from his programming. To this point it had been an unnecessary precaution, though Cam had always felt a little more…safe, knowing it was in place.
Unfortunately it would appear that the reason for Cyber Cam’s recent behavioral alteration was connected to the fact that the hacker had switched tactics, changing from attempting to break into the system themselves to employing another AI. The fact that one existed, one that could match Cyber Cam’s capabilities, worried Cam. The fact that his own program had become so taken with it…
The green ranger had to deal with the unpleasant fact that the only thing keeping the AI out of Ninja Ops was Cyber Cam, (Cam himself too slow in comparison to be able to ward off its attempts), and the only thing keeping Cyber Cam from allowing it - “her” - entrance was the program’s base protocols that required Cam’s approval for such a transaction. He was confident in his programming, he did not think it would fail, but now he was left with an endless argument Cyber Cam refused to do away with, stubbornly insisting on “Sheila’s” admittance.
Cam wouldn’t lose by any means, though eventually there would be some question of his sanity.
He could only cope with so much whining.
The green ranger sat back in his chair and repressed a sigh, staring down his monitor with controlled authority. “I will not have you endanger our safety on hearsay.”
He didn’t like not knowing this outside program that was tracking them. It could be from anyone, from Lothor, from some new threat. To blindly allow it access…
He couldn’t do it. He couldn’t take that risk.
There was a pause, allowing Cam a small reprieve, and then, “What if it wasn’t hearsay?”
Cam frowned and felt his eyes narrow. “You just explained-”
“I mean dude,” Cyber Cam interrupted, enthusiasm picking up as the wheels slowly began to turn on his idea. “What if you verified it? Like, she does the trust thing first because she knows we’re good? And then you’ll know she’s good and we can get your problems out of the way so that we can properly get our flirt-on.”
Cam disregarded the last half of his statement as it was irrelevant, though he was pleased to hear Tori stifle a chuckle behind him, and moved on to process this idea. “And how would you propose doing this?” He asked, studying his monitor intently.
“Simple dude,” Cyber Cam chirped, pleased that Cam was willing to hear him out. “She’s a satellite. All you’ve got to do is track her down. She’ll give you access and then presto chango, everybody wins.”
Cam took a moment to mull this over, tuning out Shane and Tori’s words of enthusiasm, glad that a proper form of action was finally on the table.
If Cyber Cam truly was uncompromised, this could work well for them. If they could verify the source. If he could verify the source.
But that was just the problem, wasn’t it? Cam would have to be the one to go and if Cyber Cam was hacked then this could simply be a ruse, a trap for him to spring. If he attempted this and was captured the team would be left with absolutely no technical support - Cyber Cam would be useless - but if he wasn’t-
“You should go.”
Shane’s voice came with a firm grip on his shoulder, a commanding, comforting presence, and Cam was surprised to see he had been so occupied he hadn’t realized that the other two had made their way to his side, ready to make a decision.
After a moment’s hesitation Cam finally nodded, agreeing, somewhat reluctantly. “I should go.”
Even if it was a trap, he would have the best odds of escaping it as one of the strongest rangers on the team. And he-
He needed to clean up this mess he had created. Installing untested morpher-blockers had been tempting fate and he knew it; not making enough time to upgrade the Ops’ security was his fault, he knew he shouldn’t have slacked off, and while this mess had arguably not arisen from his mistakes alone, he had contributed, and he would fix it.
“Great!” Cyber Cam cheered. “She’s sending me the coordinates now, along with details on how to get inside.”
“We’ll monitor you every step of the way,” Tori vowed, nodding to the screen and Cam inclined his head towards her in silent thanks.
As he began to make his way outside Shane stepped in front of him, eyes concerned but…proud. Because Cam could do this. Cam would do this, and Shane believed in him. Not the blind faith that the others sometimes pushed upon him but real, supported trust.
Cam would not disappoint that.
“Be safe Cam,” Shane ordered, quiet and friendly but leaving no room for argument.
Cam nodded in return to thank him, then moved to embark upon his first adventure into space.
Odds were it wouldn’t be his last.
When Eric stormed into the room it was safe to say that no one was particularly surprised by his behavior, probably because storming and general grumpiness wasn’t far out of line for Eric’s normal day-to-day behavior, and Leo was even less surprised to see that the entirety of Eric’s angry glaring was focused on him.
What did surprise him was what Eric chose to yell which, as stupid as it sounded, gave Leo the impression he actually might not be addressing him.
Yeah…that was pretty stupid.
So, quick recap: Eric stomped into the mostly-filled room (Maya and the others were still in-transit, much to Leo’s dismay) and had to be literally held back by Carter and Wes.
And then, to bring it on home, he shouted, “There’s a hole in my ceiling!”
Everyone in the room looked confused for a moment and then Leo blinked, realizing that this declaration really was aimed at him, and tilted his head. “…Yay?”
Based on Eric’s immediate reaction that probably wasn’t the right thing to say, as the Quantum Ranger fell into what could only be described as a brief period of frothing rage where he tried desperately to murder Leo with his eyeballs, all the while still struggling to get out of Wes and Carter’s grasp.
Kai, who had made a chart (a chart, so prepared was Leo’s boyfriend) that mapped out all the possibilities Leo’s goop-dumping prank could take (which was, honestly, all sorts of impressive; Leo’s favorite alternative was if somehow Eric flailed his way down to the circuit breaker and shorted out his house), knew for a fact that holes-in-the-ceiling hadn’t been an option. With this in mind he casually repositioned himself so that he was in front of Leo, staring Eric down with a bored expression on his face.
Eric must have taken this as some sort of confirmation of the worst because he jabbed a finger over Carter’s shoulder, glaring at Leo accusingly. “Why is there a hole in my ceiling?!”
“Is this a trick question?” Leo asked, rhetorically, and Kai sent him a look that clearly said “Stop messing around”. Leo shrugged. “I assume your house wanted more natural lighting.”
“Leo,” Kai scolded without actually scolding, because he felt like being nice to the red ranger’s ego right now.
Leo couldn’t help a fond smile (Leo-mush all up on the inside) and that instigated a furious growl from Eric’s side of the room. Right, placating, right. He could do that. Leo shook his head and tried to get with the picture. “Look, I don’t know. Maybe your daemon spawn was feeling a little rebellious towards your housing structure or something.”
Leo had meant it to be a jab interlaced with a helpful suggestion just to prove he wasn’t like, a complete dick, but instead of another aggravated sputter Eric froze; Carter and Wes following in suit as they stared at Leo questioningly.
“…my daemon spawn?” Eric echoed, pronouncing every syllable clearly as though he was trying to make sense of it, drawing it out to discern every hidden detail.
Leo rolled his eyes. “Your relative; the kid. He was in your house after me.” The brunette scrunched his eyes in thought. “I might have traumatized him a bit, on accident. He was trying to be all sneaky.”
When the looks of confusion turned into looks of oh-my-god-our-brains-can’t-stand-the-might-of-your-awesomely-awesomeness, Leo got the feeling that he might just be off the hook.
“There was a kid in my house?” Eric asked, motionless except for a twitch forming in his eye.
“What did he look like?” Wes said immediately after, waving a hand to silence Eric’s protest because hey- they all knew a rhetorical question when they heard one.
Leo gave them an incredulous look and pointed to Eric. “Like him but you know…” he did some gesturing with his hands, bringing them together in a shrinking motion. “Smaller.”
“Did he have brown, curly hair?” Eric asked.
“Do you have brown, curly hair?” Leo asked out of spite because he had looked like Eric, but smaller which was the entire reason he had thought he was a relative in the first place. He shared an inquisitive look with Kai before looking back to the two Silver Guardians. “So is this kid related to you or not?”
“Not,” Eric mumbled, finally pulling out of Wes and Carter’s hold to run a hand across his face, suddenly worn out and tired.
Wes looked between Leo and Eric, as if he’d be able to figure something out between the two of them, and asked, “Why was he in your house?”
And Leo, because he was kind’ve a dick and it was just too tempting, added, enthusiastically, “And why is there a hole in your ceiling?”
No one tried to interfere whenever Eric chased Leo out of the room and through the hallways, which was just shoddy, shoddy teamwork right there, but since it helped Eric get rid of some stress Leo couldn’t really complain. That was probably why no one else had interceded. Well, except for Rocky.
Rocky had given him a high five.
Wes sighed tiredly as he watched Leo bolt from the room, Eric hot on his tails, and ran a hand across his face tiredly. Lord knew how that was going to end. The good news (for Leo) was that speed was not Eric’s strongest suit. Stamina and endurance he had, but he was not the lightest on his feet when it came to flat-out running. He reserved most of his agility training for when he was working on technique. Based on what Wes had seen during the Serpentera mission, Leo could probably outrun the Quantum ranger, no sweat. The question then was would he want to, or would he stay just within Eric’s line-of-sight and try to wear him down, help him work some of his frustration out?
Over by the computers, Kai didn’t look too terribly concerned and had probably already come to the conclusion that Leo would be fine, so Wes tried not to worry about it. Instead he focused on their newest piece of intel, trying to figure out what it meant.
“Why did you ask if he had curly hair?”
The question came from Carter, and when Wes turned to look at him his expression was curious.
The blond shrugged. “Another kid broke into Eric’s house last week, when he was sick. It was about the time his gun went missing.”
“And you didn’t think he might have something to do with this?” Justin asked, casting an incredulous look at Wes to say he was so very displeased he had not been privy to this information sooner.
Wes tried not to throw back an irritated glare of his own and took a quick breath, counting to five in his head. “Gut feeling. I spoke with him; he’s a good kid. A little…air-headed maybe, but still good.”
“And then a week later another kid breaks into Eric’s house and this time it ends with a hole in the ceiling,” Lucas said thoughtfully, laying out all the details so that everyone, whether they were busy working or hadn’t caught everything, could follow along.
“You didn’t see it though,” Wes interjected, looking at his teammate. “The place was trashed. Broken windows, toppled furniture, it looked like a stampede had gone through there.”
“Or a brawl,” Carter murmured, quiet and thoughtful, and Wes straightened up immediately at the suggestion knowing…
That was exactly what it had looked like.
“So the second kid decided to have a smack down in Eric’s house?” Rocky asked, not even partially joking.
“Think about it,” Kai said, the first time he had spoken since admonishing Leo. “Two teens, a missing weapon, and now, three missing rangers. All of which are in Silver Hills. What do you think this is?”
Wes struggled to fit the pieces together properly, still trying to sort it out while the conversation continued on around him.
“What?” Zhane began to ask, sharing a speculative look with Andros. “Are you saying they’re not actually missing at all?”
“I said they were blocked,” Justin began, frozen still over by his computer and eyes wide as he processed this thought, the answer to their puzzle dawning on him slowly. “We just assumed they were missing. But what if they weren’t?” He swiveled his chair around to face the rest of the room, expression mixed halves of amazement and sheer frustration. “What if they blocked themselves on purpose? They could be fine.”
“Then what did they block themselves from?” Adam asked, tilting his head to brush against Rocky’s, the red ranger’s head dutifully on his shoulder, arms wrapped around his waist. “What were they hiding from?”
“And do we need to hide from it too?” Kai finished, beginning to type in a flurry of commands into his keyboard, staring at his monitor with a renewed intensity.
Adam nodded, expression thoughtful as he furrowed his eyebrows, considering this. “They only turned on their blockers when they got to Silver Hills. The other ones didn’t go off grid-”
“Until I started trying to hack into their network,” Justin mumbled, collapsing his face into his hands. There was no doubt he would beat himself up for this for a very long time, far longer than was necessary, but there wasn’t much to be done for it.
Beside the Turbo Ranger, Trip reached over and laid a comforting hand against his shoulder, only squeezing it when Justin looked up to give him a half-hearted glare for it. It should be noted that his head did not go back to his hands after that, so there was progress.
“They’re running from something,” Andros muttered, arms folded across his chest, normally stoic expression baring a hint of worry.
“Well, maybe they just don’t like knowing someone can keep tabs on them,” Trip offered, smiling hopefully despite the tense atmosphere in the conference. “Maybe that’s a ninja thing.”
“Even if they didn’t know about Sheila, the first three went off grid before Justin attempted to initiate contact,” Kai explained without looking up from his work. “That means they already had a threat they needed to combat. Something that wasn’t us.” The Blue Lost Galaxy Ranger typed in another string of commands, shoulder’s slightly tense as he continued not to get the results he had been hoping for. “Sheila,” he began, sifting through dozens of windows all under the matter of a second. “Have you reached any success on the…negotiating front?”
He chose his words carefully, though a few computers over Justin still managed a look of smugness, going so far as to offer out a fist for Trip to bump in a very minimal victory. Trip, unfamiliar with this gesture, pondered the fist for a second before wrapping a hand around it in an awkward handshake. The smile that followed was stupidly pleased and brimming with pride; there was even a small shoulder pat to Justin to console the fact he didn’t know how to do a proper handshake, and then Trip was back to paying rapt attention to Kai while Justin stared stupidly at his hand, wondering what the hell just happened.
Beside Carter, Lucas managed to suppress a chortle at the exchange and glanced to the side, giving Wes a knowing look.
In the meantime Sheila responded, effervescent cheer strangely out of place in her voice, but stubbornly there nonetheless. “Quite well,” Sheila chirped. “I have offered to allow one of their rangers access to my Earth satellite. Once he sees the history of it, and all the basic functions it possess, he will know that we are on their side.”
“You what?” Kai asked, entire body immediately flooded with tension, and Sheila continued, blithely unaware.
“It is a gesture of goodwill,” she explained. “To show our trust.”
“Sheila if he doesn’t want them to be tracked by something…” Kai dropped off, running a hand through his hair and almost…shocked, overwhelmed maybe, were Kai one to be overwhelmed. It was the least composed Wes had ever seen him and it wasn’t even that much of a difference but-
His baby was being threatened. His creation. His work.
And he was worried about the outcome.
“If he alters the satellite so that you can’t be tracked either, wouldn’t that help you?” Angela asked, offering her question to the room.
Kai shrugged, trying to be aloof, but Wes could tell the idea of that didn’t sit well with him. “I don’t want-”
“This is a good chance to meet them,” Zhane interrupted, earning a mildly irritated look from Kai, but he made no protest so the Space Ranger continued. “Kai and I can take the Megawinger up the satellite; meet whatever ranger they’re sending. Maybe the giant zord will be enough to send some trusting vibes.” He smiled as he finished this, joking and cheerful, but mostly trying to bring Kai some comfort.
“Do it,” Wes said, just so that there would be no room for questions, no dallying, no arguments.
Kai and Zhane both nodded at him quickly and were out of the room in a heartbeat, not wanting to waste a second.
“In the meantime,” Wes began, looking over the faces of the remaining rangers carefully. “Trip, study the morpher net. See if Leo’s signature was close to one of the blocked off rangers in Silver Hills. And if that’s the case, see if anymore were in Eric’s house afterwards, for the fighting.”
“Do you think they were fighting each other?” Rocky asked, concerned. “Is that why they’re trying to keep apart from us?”
“Possibly,” Wes responded. He turned his attention to the remaining Space Ranger. “Andros, go update the others on what’s happening. See if any of them have any theories they want to share. Justin-” The teen’s head popped up as Andros made his way out of the room. “Check to see if the Lost Galaxy team is at Bio Labs yet. I want everyone centralized until we have a better idea of what we’re dealing with. Who here’s fast?” Wes said, switching tracks so quickly a few people paused to blink but Lucas, as always, was right on board, following every step of the way.
He shot a hand up, gesturing to himself as Wes turned. “You want me to track down Leo and Eric don’t you?”
Wes nodded, unapologetic. “It would be best.”
“I’ll go too,” Adam offered. “In case strategy demands for two.”
Lucas shrugged. “The more the merrier.”
“The Lost Galaxy team is still downtown,” Justin said, typing away furiously at his keyboard.
“Should we send them back-up?” Trip asked, fidgeting with his sleeve worriedly.
Wes shook his head. “No, there’s three of them and I don’t want to split us up more than necessary.”
“What do the rest of us do?” Carter asked, giving Wes a contemplative look, like he was reevaluating the Time Force Ranger.
Wes gave a rueful smile. “We get the sucky job,” he explained. “We sit back and wait.”
Across the room, Rocky groaned, thumping his head back against the wall. “That is a sucky job.”
Wes shrugged. “It could be worse.”
Hunter settled their trio in a few rooftops away from Bio labs, keeping track of the particular parking lot the ranger-filled SUV had ended up in, trying to figure out the next step of their plan.
Beside him, Blake made a scoffing noise. “Oh, so the Silver Guardians SUV went back to the Silver Guardians Headquarters? My mind, she has been blown.”
“Shut it Blake,” Hunter murmured, narrowing his eyes at the building in the distance for having the gall to be heavily sneak-proof. Lots of lighting, minimal shrubbery, barely any nooks or crannies or for them to lurk in. It was so…corporate.
Gah, he detested it.
“Silver Guardians HQ?” Dustin asked, tilting his head to the side as he stared at the building quizzically. “Dude, the sign says Bio Labs.”
“Which is where the Silver Guardians are from,” Blake explained, suppressing his exasperation until it was just a bare undertone in his voice. He didn’t want to upset Dustin but he just…it had been a long couple of days. For all of them.
“Yes Dustin,” Hunter continued, picking up Blake’s train of thought where he left off. “That is where they are birthed and raised.”
“Figuratively speaking, of course,” Blake finished before Dustin could move on to ask that wide-eyed “Really?” they both knew had been coming.
There was a moment’s pause, and then Dustin reached up to rub the side of his head, slumping down below the roof’s lip on his back so that he could stare at Hunter beseechingly. “Dude, I forgot what that one meant.”
“Not literally,” Blake replied unhelpfully and Hunter batted a hand at his brother’s face so that he could at least attempt to contain his uselessness for a few seconds.
“That’s where they’re trained and made all…official and stuff. Where they work out of.”
Dustin thought about this, gnawing at his bottom lip slowly as his eyes stare off into the distance behind Hunter’s. Eventually he snapped his attention back to the blond. “Like Friend-Eric and Wes-guy, right?”
“Exactly,” Hunter said, blatantly ignoring Dustin’s modifiers for the two Time Force Ranger’s names.
You picked your battles, and that one wasn’t worth it.
He gave Blake’s arm an extra-thoughtful squeeze when he looked like he was going to protest anyway, just so he could get with the program.
“And that’s where all the rangers are,” Dustin continued.
“Also true,” Hunter replied.
“So uh…how do we get in there, to see what they’re doing?”
Dustin looked between the two Bradley brothers eagerly, waiting for them to continue doling out their succulently knowledgeful apples of thunder-wisdom.
But that was a…thought-provoking question.
“How do we get in there?” Blake said after a pause, voice mixed with hints of puzzlement and perplexity. “Can we sneak-?”
“We could, if it was night,” Hunter murmured, trying not to be bitter, and scrunched his nose in thought. “That place is way too well-lit for us, and we don’t even know the inside; the hallways could be long and crowded.”
“And the air vents don’t look big enough,” Blake replied, eyes forward on the building in question, and if Blake said they were too small, they were too small.
“Power outage?” Dustin offered, eyebrows raised.
“Too suspicious,” Hunter said. “We want them at ease and continuing operations as normal.”
“A reunion of old rangers is normal?” Blake asked.
“For them, could be,” Hunter replied, then frowned. “They’ll definitely notice colored blurs if we try streaking.”
“Another shadow battle?” Blake tried, making an estimate of the building’s length with his eyes.
“Too unreliable,” Hunter muttered. When they actually had something to fight that clearly wasn’t the case, but for sneaking…
It was called a shadow battle for a reason. Misusing techniques did not always lead to the most celebratory results. They had gotten lucky earlier.
“You could always do the old swap-a-roo,” Dustin suggested. After the few seconds it took to process this, the Thunder Rangers turned to take a look at Dustin, matching expressions of confusion adorning their faces. The yellow ranger shrugged, casual. “You know, like in the movies. You knock out some guy on the way to work, take his clothes and then you’re incognito, cuz you’re one of them right?”
He looked back and forth between the two of them eagerly, practically vibrating with excitement at his idea. “And dude, they even wear uniforms; I can see them-”
“That would never work,” Blake protested, keeping his tone light to null out the harshness of his words.
Dustin frowned anyway, bottom lip jutting out at his plan being shot down. “It could-”
“It shouldn’t work,” Hunter mumbled, really thinking the idea over. “It’s horrible and cliché and it shouldn’t work.”
He turned and looked over the other two slowly, Dustin’s eyebrows furrowed, conflicted over whether he should be hurt or curious, but it only took Blake one glance at his brother’s expression to roll his head back with a groan, bringing it forward to rest on his forearms, leaning against the top of the building’s lip. “So that’s going to be the plan, isn’t it?” he asked, air of resignation in his tone.
Hunter nodded, despite the fact his brother was stubbornly refusing to look at him, and felt a smile slowly spread across his face. “Everything else that should have worked by now has fallen through spectacularly.”
“Hey, maybe this will fail, but you know, faster,” Blake snarked, head still buried in his arms, but Dustin cheered beside him, so on board with this plan.
“Alright,” Hunter began, nodding his head in decision as he began to stand up. “I’ll make a quick loop of the building and see if I can find any guys going in.”
“Who decided you were going to do it?” Blake asked, head rising up with a look of growing defiance on his face.
Well, Hunter would just have to do some more knowledge dropping, now wouldn’t he?
“I am going,” Hunter began to explain, voice low and commanding. “Because I am the one who has not been seen by any of the rangers in that building. I am, of the three of us, the biggest Joe-Schmoe to those guys. I am just another nameless face and also-” He held a hand up silencing Blake’s protest. “I am the one who looks old enough to be there.”
“Bull pucky,” Blake mumbled under his breath, folding his arms stubbornly but making no move to make further protests. He could see Hunter had a point.
“That’s the spirit!” Dustin chirped, totally focused on Blake’s self-censoring as opposed to his surrender, and he reached across the space Hunter had occupied and clapped the younger brother on the shoulder, victorious. “Hunter can do this Blake.”
“That doesn’t make it a good plan,” Blake protested, though by this time Hunter was already a leaf in the wind, their voices a distant echo behind him as he began his slow circuit around Bio Labs. There was only a few seconds of quiet before he heard the other two traveling behind him, following at a distance; Blake still muttering under his breath that this was the worst, most horrible idea they had ever had the misfortune of implementing.
And, as Blake had done to him earlier, Hunter paid him absolutely no heed, though occasionally Dustin would throw in a non sequitur and Hunter would have to hold in a laugh as Blake sputtered indignantly, trying to figure out where the hell he had left off in his rant.
Oh…like brother like brother. They could be so similar sometimes it scared Hunter.
But the way he figured it, that wasn’t so bad. So long as they ended up on the same side, fighting together.
Running away from giant, murderous, dinosaur robots.
Yeah, this was all just another exercise in family bonding. Legit.