We've got to Start Running Into Each Other Like This
“Tori- breathing,” Dustin wheezed, his helmet crushed against the aqua ranger’s shoulder in a bear hug to end all bear hugs. No exaggeration required, Blake knew this intimately well from his own (unfortunate) experience.
“Fine,” Tori huffed, relinquishing her grip on the yellow ninja. He stumbled back into Cam’s waiting arms, grateful. (Temporarily, oh-so temporarily, because they were all familiar enough with the blonde’s no-bullshit pose that followed to realize some business was about to get done).
“Enlighten me,” Tori began, bumping her shoulder against Shane’s until they were an impenetrable wall of unimpressed-ness. “How, exactly, did you turn giving back a weapon into the next World War?”
“Skillz?” Dustin offered, looking to Blake for solidarity.
Considering himself a person of at least moderate survival instincts, Blake stayed out of it.
Though he did offer a squeeze on Dustin’s arm, as much as that was worth.
Not much, based on the somehow skeptical head tilt from one Cam Watanabe, but whatever, the important thing was that Blake would live.
Dustin had his natural adorableness and endearing tendency for hijinks working on his side; it would soften any and all disapproval going in his direction. Blake, on the other hand, was not so fortunately gifted, and as one of the more ‘steadfast’ of the group there was a certain expectation for keeping things from spiraling out of control hefted onto his shoulders. His punishment, unlike Dustin’s, would not be so tempered.
So he kept his mouth shut.
It didn’t make him feel like the greatest human being in the world, but like he said, at the end of the day it was about surviving.
That didn’t mean he had to be a complete ass though.
“Besides,” the navy ranger began, shifting Tori’s glare-o-wrath away from Dustin before the yellow ranger completely wilted under it. “Where’s Hunter?”
That was kind of a thing he had concerns about. A lot.
“Wind Megazord,” Cam murmured, vaguely gesturing to the behemoth waiting in the distance. “He’s sitting out this round.”
Something about the way his tone lacked his usual distain for all things Hunter-related had Blake’s brother-instincts careening into panic mode.
“He’ll live,” Dustin offered solemnly, echoed as though he had heard it before. He shifted unsteadily on his feet, making a distinct attempt not to broadcast how entirely he thought he was to blame which- despite his efforts- was sort of what gave him away.
Blake sighed, forcing himself past the panic and helplessness, and strode over to the earth ninja’s side of the circle, pulling the brunette into a rough hug before he could even think about objecting. Dustin might have, for about half a second, but he was no match for physical affection on a good day, let alone a bad one.
“I hate this day,” the younger Bradley muttered, Dustin all but melting into his hold with a quiet sigh.
“Trust me,” Shane began, detached leader-tone fully engaged. “You’re not alone.”
“Let’s join the others,” Cam suggested, nodding his helmet towards the rainbow huddle of people further down the street. “Finish this.”
No one missed his careful grip on the back of Dustin’s neck, a quick squeeze – comfort and affection expressed as loosely as Cam could manage in battle – and then nothing; the Samurai keeping pace with Shane, Tori moving to flank the red ranger’s other side easily, grace and violence in one tight package.
“We’re going to be okay, right?”
There was a depth to the uncertainty in Dustin’s voice that struck at Blake, lashing out towards the sympathetic tendencies he had yet to squelch under the apathy of survival.
“We’re going to be fine,” Blake replied, not putting much thought into his answer. He didn’t want to lie to Dustin, but honestly, he wasn’t sure how this was going to turn out. Not with the way everything kept changing from hour-to-hour. He hated the lack of predictability, but that cross was his alone to bear at the moment. For now, for the sake of the team, he had to keep positive.
He wasn’t sure if Dustin totally bought it, but the yellow ranger didn’t say anything else after that, choosing to finish their trek to the others in silence.
“We’ll be fine,” he repeated quietly, navigating Dustin towards their spots. One of the veterans- the fire guy from earlier, with the sword, must have caught it, and looked over at them slowly, nodding.
“We’ll be fine together,” the red ranger added, voice soft but cheerful. It was a dopey thing to say, and normally Blake wouldn’t hesitate before making fun of him for it (veteran or no), but he understood the intention behind it. Despite the horrible cheesiness, or stupid repetition, Blake was grateful.
If they failed, they would fail together.
That thought was more comforting than it should have been.
The fact that there was no reason to be nervous did very little to dissuade Wes from actually being nervous. He had faced high stakes before, with less back up even, but as it stood there were some small, fiercely worrisome doubts that refused to be quelled, regardless of how hard he tried to rid himself of them.
He wished Tommy were here, or even Jason. They might not have as much experience actively leading large counter-offences, not like Wes and Eric had, but the added years with a morpher presented a certain kind of comfort. Honestly, Andros probably would have been the ideal choice for this, with actual war-time experience, and it was now more than ever that Wes was feeling the Space ranger’s lack.
In his peripherals, Wes could see Eric’s rigid posture, his disposition radiating joint aggravation and stubbornness – a familiar, if unorthodox comfort. He took his place near the outside of the formation with minimal grumbling (for him), bumping shoulders with Adam as they stared off into the distance, towards the first of many hurdles.
Two down, five to go, and the big attack might not even be necessary for all of them. Hopefully, not for any of them, purely based on the more obvious signs of exhaustion some of the rangers struggled to conceal.
Samurai began to take point without waiting to be prompted, positioning the others where they would be most effective, and Wes took the time for one final evaluation, gauging everyone’s energy levels as best he could.
Behind them, the Silver Guardians were hard at work keeping the masses of foot-soldiers at bay, forming a defensive perimeter around the rangers to allow for some breathing space. If Wes had their voices placed correctly, at least one the squads was Miller’s (who were not-so-secretly Eric’s favorites, and therefore always excluded from the easier, “waste of time” assignments). The new kids – rangers – seemed to be recovering in fine form; Yellow keeping close to Green while Red had his eyes on everyone, occasionally throwing a glace towards their zord waiting off in the distance, where their injured teammate was holed up, Wes assumed.
Though it was unreasonable, Wes wasn’t going to stop kicking himself over that any time soon. It just seemed like there was something he could have done-
“We’re going to be okay.”
Carter sidled into his view with quiet grace. Wes had a suspicion that it was impossible for the Lightspeed ranger to look anything other than purposeful. If Carter were helmetless, Wes would bet anything the picture he posed would be that of perfect heroism, hair billowing in the breeze and jaw set in that same coolly-determined inclination in which he approached everything. If Wes weren’t so (platonically) hung up on Eric, he would have fancied the idea of pursuing Carter. If only for the stability.
In the wake of Wes’ silence, Justin strolled over to their huddle, looking more relaxed than Wes had seen him all day. It probably had something to do with the potential venting-rage-via-his-fists possibilities drawing all the closer. He nodded towards the yellow ninja.
“Notice he hasn’t given it back yet.” Whether he was casually observing this or deriving secret joy from the fact the Ninja Storm kid still, in fact, had a hold of the Quantum Defender, it was difficult to tell, though the snort that followed was somewhat of a confirmation. “I’m amazed Myers hasn’t strangled him.”
“There’ll be time for that later,” Leo chirped happily, just over the Turbo ranger’s shoulder. The grin that followed must have been positively maniacal as Justin immediately jumped at the sound, having missed the other’s approach.
“Jesus Leo,” the blue ranger cursed, shoving the other man away on principle. “Make some damn noise next time.”
“I can’t help it,” Leo replied brightly. “My skills have skills.”
“That’s impossible dude,” the aforementioned yellow ranger noted this thoughtfully as he strolled by. Apparently he was helping out the Samurai ranger by herding his teammates to the appropriate positions. At the moment, he was guiding a very put-upon navy ranger to the opposite end of the formation.
“I would know,” he continued. “I’ve tried.”
“We’ll trade tips later!” Leo offered to his retreating back. The ninja responded with an enthusiastic thumbs up before returning to his duties.
There were moments that Wes had to marvel that this was actually his life.
“Seriously though,” Justin continued, helmet cocked to the side. “How is he still alive?” After a moment’s consideration, he turned towards Leo. “And shouldn’t you be over there?”
The Galaxy ranger shrugged. “I’ll join my new boyfriend later.”
He left it at that, seemingly content not to explain Lucas’ new nickname. The rest of them, knowing better than to ask, wisely left the subject alone.
“Well-timed distractions,” Carter muttered, throwing them all temporarily for a loop.
When he realized they hadn’t made the connection, Carter elaborated, “Their green ranger’s been keeping Eric distracted whenever he gets worked up about it.”
They followed the Lightspeed ranger’s gaze towards the center of their cluster, catching the green ranger in the act itself. He had recruited Eric to herd the others on his side of the formation, by the look of it. Wes suspected Carter’s observation was something Adam and the aqua ranger had discovered for themselves a while ago, and were taking the probing in good-natured strides.
Justin made a displeased sound. “But why hasn’t he given it back yet?”
“Dude, I’ve been trying.”
The majority of the group (sans Carter, who must have seen him coming) startled at the return of the familiar voice.
The yellow ranger, now hovering by Carter’s shoulder, didn’t look particularly apologetic about this.
“Plus,” he continued, hand tapping against the handle of the weapon. “Ca- I mean, you know, he-” There was a loose gesture towards the green ranger. “-thinks it might be necessary. You know, to be ‘adequately prepared’.” The final words seem unfamiliar in his mouth, almost as though he was borrowing them from somebody else.
“That seems…awfully paranoid,” Leo offered when the silence began to drag on. “I approve.”
“Thanks!” Despite the fact it wasn’t really himself he was defending, or being complimented, the yellow ranger seemed pleased by the acknowledgement.
“You’re welcome.” And the fact that Justin chirped this out in sync with Leo was not missed, nor was the heavy application of sarcasm.
“We get it,” the blue ranger continued at the looks sent in his direction. “You guys are cheerful, that’s great.”
He said this with the emphasis of one who did not find this particularly great at all.
This was lost on the yellow ranger.
“Thanks!” This time his gratitude was accompanied by a clap to Justin’s arm. Not hard enough to rock him, but substantial enough that even Wes winced at the blow.
“No problem,” Justin grunted.
Strangely enough, it sounded sincere.
“Commander Collins.” The green Samurai ranger sidled up behind Leo with languid grace, giving the other rangers a brief nod before turning his attention back towards Wes. “We’re ready.”
For a second Wes was confused why he had been singled out for this particular piece of news. Then he remembered, to some degree of horror, that he had been nominated the impromptu leader of this shindig.
Swallowing back a sigh, Wes returned the nod and readied his Chrono Sabers.
“All right people,” he began, trying not to sound as silly as he felt. “On my mark.”
Next time they have a mini-cataclysmic space war, they were doing it in Mariner Bay. Make Carter deal with this crap.
“Ready?!” He posed his swords for an offensive, noting distantly that Leo was already on the move behind him, getting back to his spot.
Man, he really hoped this worked.
“Ready!” Justin hollered, readjusting his grip on his Auto Blaster.
Final-freakin’-ly; something to smash.
There were no more cars being hurled at his head, no more evasive maneuvers to be pulled from his admittedly impressive skill set, no more speculating, no more sitting on the sidelines, no more not knowing why- now was the time for action.
He would relish it.
Leo threw a grin at Lucas, uncaring that the blue ranger was unable to witness the fleeting moment of dashingly handsomeness, and readied his Quasar Saber up before him.
The fires dancing along his fingertips came to him as naturally as breathing, manifesting between the inhale and exhale in a blaze of light. It was a second skin, another heartbeat, pulsing through his body; just as tangible as any flesh or bone. This was what the Morphing Grid had done to him.
And now this was what he would do to those who threatened its sanctity.
Leo considered himself a stand-up guy like that.
The power was pulsing, electric – wow – there were so many pretty colors all around, like being in the eye of a rainbow, Dustin thought, if one were open to the idea of mixing weather anomalies.
He was pretty sure that, despite his enthusiasm, that his comparison didn’t quite make sense, but Dustin was okay with that.
Like he said, colors, everywhere; it was all kinds of awesome.
If he got through this without passing out he was totally going to go all Gossip Girl on Tori to try and remember how vividly beautiful it all was.
It would have been better if half the city hadn’t been destroyed for him to witness this, but Dustin tried to be a more ‘bright side’ of person.
Like, take the colors in while you had them, right?
If Shane hadn’t been so immersed in the mindset of ‘calm, collected leader’, he probably would have taken a moment to be overcome with pure awe. It was astonishing, what they were doing, and how it felt-
Obviously, it was different than when their team- his team- combined powers, but it was a good-different.
Focused and powerful and all encompassing, and for a second Shane could have sworn they were invincible, regardless of how many Doompots they had to face.
They could do this.
They could really do this.
Jesus Christ, how long did it take to charge up for an attack? Hunter had thought the three minutes of arranging themselves perfectly had been hair-yankingly tedious, but apparently the actual act of attacking was going to take eighteen years.
If they kept this shit up their ‘mulit-powered super strike’ (so dubbed by Hunter, after hearing Cam’s (stupid) plan) wouldn’t even be necessary; the Doompots would have died of old age.
Or taken over the world already, but based on how illogically patient they had been in waiting for their demises, Hunter was willing to put money on the former.
Because, you know, he liked money.
They finally took the damn shot, and Eric realized he still didn’t have his gun back.
Were Kai prone to exercises in frivolity, he would have spared himself a moment of annoyance for his inability to properly operate a zord. It was not so much that he was incapable, rather that he had been, from a very young age, brought up accustomed to a completely different set of procedures and his mind, he suspected, was rebelling against this foreign and unrepentant change.
Or perhaps it had something to do with the negative connotations his past exploits tended to kindle, and the constant reminder of his inability to alter them was a frustrating – and therefore lacking – result.
But Kai had trained such inefficiencies out of himself a long time ago, so the agitation and self loathing were sequestered to the spaces of his mind that were unmanaged, to be ignored in favor of the rush of counter, advance, and projecting outcomes; the difficulty of which compounded by the added complication of coordinating with another zord.
By all rights, Kai should be the best pilot on his team.
The infuriatingly useless mental block of simply not wanting to be was going to be an issue that needed to be addressed soon, preferably before it got him – or worse, his team – killed.
But that was a matter for another day.
At the moment, the most pressing of Kai’s immediate dangers was the risk of destroying the Mega Winger.
“Dude, on your left.”
Kai reacted accordingly, jerking the controls in an effort to buy himself some space, evading the dual swords of the enemy General. Even with the added response time the result was clumsy and not entirely successful; a horrible grinding noise as metal scraped against metal, sending him to the left side of his cockpit with a sudden jolt. Fortunately, his harness held, but that was where the good graces stopped. The Mega Winger’s left arm had dropped its functionality to sixty percent; a precedent to slower reaction times. The damage would only get worse from here on out.
Damon would not be pleased when this was over.
Kai made a note to upgrade his tablet with the experimental software he had been saving for the green ranger’s birthday, then returned his focus to the battle.
They weren’t winning.
“That did not look pretty dude.”
“It wasn’t,” Kai muttered darkly, maneuvering the zord backwards to allow himself a chance to recover.
He had learned, early on, that the foreign AI responded better to verbal communication. Though why this was the case, as opposed to the program simply analyzing their movements, correlating it to what had been previously exhibited as well as all possible and plausible maneuvers that were potentially available and designating an appropriate outcome from there, Kai did not know. It would certainly have been more efficient.
Ultimately, it came down to alternative approaches in designing. There was some function to be surrendered when attempting to replicate an interactive sequence more geared towards humans.
Kai would have to speak to the Samurai ranger about it later. It was…refreshing, dare he think, almost exciting, to find a fellow programmer of such skill.
“You’re taking on heavy damage dude,” the foreign AI noted, sounding strained, for added effect, Kai assumed. “Maybe you should pull back; try long distance attacks.”
“He’s too fast,” Kai replied, eyes narrowing at the console screen before him. “If I retreated to even the farthest point of the Mega Winger’s weapon range, he would still be able to counter before I could manage a shot.”
“I know.” The AI actually sighed at this, sounding wistful. “I was hoping we could try anyway.”
“Focus on the battle,” Kai ordered, perhaps a bit terse. “I’ll contemplate other strategies to gain an upper hand.”
In truth, there was only one strategy that was likely to do any good, though Kai loathed to employ it.
‘Mid-Battle Banter’, as Leo had dubbed it, had always been low on Kai’s list of priorities when it came to these affairs. Though even he could (regrettably) admit to its mild effectiveness from time-to-time.
At the moment, Kai would take whatever advantages he could get.
The Lost Galaxy ranger flipped onto an open radio frequency, hands tensing against the Mega Winger’s console as the channel flickered to life. “I expected more of one of Lothor’s generals,” Kai drawled, recreating that bored, taunting lilt his fathers had taught him. “Just can’t find any good villains nowadays, can we?”
He addressed this to the AI, who took to this new tactic with a gleeful laugh before eagerly joining in; imitating his creator’s more stoic tone. “He certainly lacks a distinct finesse compared to who we usually fight.”
Whether the General had noticed the Samurai ranger’s recent evacuation or not, it would have been illogical to confirm that the other zord was currently being piloted by an AI. Kai added a notch to the mental tally of items to discuss with the green Ninja ranger. At first he had been mildly befuddled by the programmer’s choice of creating an AI in his own likeness (mildly, as using an existing mind was a common practice when creating the base of an AI), but viewing it in action, Kai was beginning to see the appeal.
He made a note to create similar features for Delta – not as a default of course, more for a rarely-used contingency that would be useful for his personal Battle AI’s usage. Were Kai not so stubborn, he would have relinquished control over the Mega Winger to Delta long ago, similarly to the Samurai ranger. But until it proved detrimental, he would humor his pride.
He was getting distracted. Yet another reason his piloting skills were so lacking.
“You suffer damage at the hands of my zord, and yet you call me insufficient?!” the General snarled, tone a mixture of disbelief and pompous entitlement, that they would dare question his might.
“Clearly, he has yet to realize we are on decoy duty,” the AI chirped, his smooth chipper unyielding to the newest assault the general attempted. He avoided with a deft spin, leaving the enemy open.
“How droll,” Kai muttered, forcing every ounce of disinterest into his tone. The lunge had left Zurgane exposed, and the blue ranger utilized those precious seconds to fire off a rapid valley of shots. They all made their mark, but only did moderate damage. Not enough to force a retreat.
Still, the plan was working. He was getting sloppy.
“You think you hold me here against my will?” the General growled, low and violent, intent easily recognizable to Kai through long years of experience. “You think I am not exactly where I am needed?”
Kai scoffed, and the AI outright laughed at that, continuing with a taunting tone, “You’re in space. The battle’s on Earth.” He laughed again. “It would appear Lothor doesn’t trust you to handle big-boy duties.”
“Fools,” the general spat, rising to the bait. “You believe the battle is won now? You believe the destruction of one PotStopper means something?”
PotStopper – that must be the formal name of the ‘Doompot’ monster they were up against.
“You’re down three,” the AI, who had been keeping better updated with tabs on the battle waging far below them via Sheila’s updates, replied. “And those are only the one’s we know about.”
“Idiots,” the General scoffed, sounding pleased. “There is only one that matters. Only one, and you cannot stop him.”
The confidence did little to shake Kai’s focus, though a new feeling of concern was raised; a muted sensation under the calculation, demanding more details. There was a two-pronged benefit from goading one’s enemy and this second, the admittance of information not normally divulged, was worth looking into. Even if it detracted from his combative ability, Kai was overwhelmed with the need to learn more.
In this plight, he was not alone.
“What is this,” the AI goaded, keeping to his amusement, pressing that he was the one in control. “A ‘One Doompot to rule them all’ kind of thing?”
Kai granted the AI and its creator another point for an amusing use of literary elusion, and frowned at the general’s immediate bark of laughter, doubting it was in appreciation of the reference.
No, this was a dark humor.
Kai was also familiar with this.
“One PotStopper and six distractions,” the General taunted, using his new confidence to rush the Samurai Star Megazord. “One PotStopper and six imposters; tasked with wearing down, wearing out, draining and weakening until one-by-one, the rangers fall to the real monster, and come under the control of the mighty Lothor!”
It was posturing, pushing to buy time and to shake their focus – but Kai was trained to be too thorough to not look into the possibility. He switched off his channel just as the AI launched into the General again, capacities more attuned to simultaneously managing battle and distractions.
Kai maneuvered the Mega Winger into a position for long-range battle, now possible due to the provided distraction, and flipped on his connection to Sheila.
Blake wasn’t exhausted when the dust cleared and, like a sweet dream, the Doompot was down. He was reinvigorated.
The Doompot was gone.
He didn’t even care that they would have to do it like, five more times, they could win this.
His paranoia could be quelled.