Be. Aggressive. B-E Aggressive.
It was when the three most immediate Doompot threats were cleared away and the henchmen dispatched in fair form by the remaining Silver Guardian squads that the rangers began to realize something was wrong.
Wes hadn’t done much more than call in to Angela for a status update, the others cheering around him – okay, with Leo and some of the ninjas cheering around him while everyone else was around trying not to be exhausted – when he got…no news.
Or, he got some news, a quick dose of confusion, and then a whole lot of swearing from Angela’s end of the line.
Not good then.
“Something’s jamming the satellite,” Angela muttered, offering the explanation before Wes could ask. “With the exception of the rangers in your immediate vicinity and our good buddies in space, I’m not getting a read on anyone.”
“Could you clarify?” Wes asked, sounding immensely more composed than he thought he would. Panic gripped at the base of his neck, ruthless, but he quelled it, forcing himself to get a full read on the situation before reacting.
Angela was kind enough not to sound like she thought he was a complete idiot for asking. “It’s exactly what it sounds like. There’re no beacons from their morphers and I can’t make radio contact.”
“Patch us through to Kai,” Wes ordered, voice stern enough that he captured Adam’s attention, from where he had been standing nearby, leaning against the mangled remains of a pickup truck. Wes swallowed, and forced himself into a more casual tone. “Maybe proximity to the satellite will-”
“I’m already here, Commander,” Kai’s voice, which had not surprised Wes (too much), broke into the line. “I’ve encountered the same results.”
Underneath the usual air of cool apathy was a sort of tension, hidden with a terse edge that most would mistake for rudeness. Wes had been around Eric long enough to recognize when it was real and when it was an act, and the panic took a sour turn, mixing with dread in the pit of his stomach.
“But you’ve got a theory,” Wes said, quiet.
Kai didn’t bother easing them into it; instead blue ranger cut to the heart of the issues, dealing his information out quick and efficient. “Zurgane explained the plan. Lothor’s been playing us. Only one ‘Doompot’ is a legitimate recreation of the original; the others were just placeholders bearing its face.”
“To wear us down,” Wes concluded, and Kai confirmed this with a quick sigh that was probably more telegraphed than it normally would have been, for Wes’ benefit.
In the clearer reception of the temporary command center, Angela released a displeased hiss, probably attacking her computer set up with a renewed fervor in light of the recent information. “I’d bet anything that not one of you guys has laid a hand on the real Doompot yet, too busy handling those decoys. First they split you up, then they run you ragged and at the last second, that Doompot asshole swoops in and absorbs whoever he wants, ripe for the picking.”
“But I thought with us cutting back from energy attacks-”
“Re-engineering,” Kai cut in, allowing no time for inefficiency. “Zurgane divulged that as well. The new ‘Doompot’ only requires physical contact to get a lock on a ranger.”
“Asshole,” Angela repeated again, voice pure venom.
“It’s brilliant, if you think about it,” Kai noted quietly, a detached interest in his tone so completely void of anything it would have terrified Wes, were he not already overwhelmed as it was. “If our readings are accurate, then it is logical to assume that your forces, Commander Collins, are the only rangers still in action. Everyone else-”
“Captured,” Wes said quietly, making a point to distance himself from his group, not wanting them to overhear his side of the conversation just yet.
Without looking, he knew Adam had followed him, footsteps careful and silent.
Across the road neither Eric nor Lucas were buying Wes’ ‘just a casual conversation’ vibe he was still trying to wear, though the blond did his best to wave them off. There were more important things to focus on.
“It would seem so,” Kai said, and Wes would like to assume there was a hint of solemnity when he admitted this, as opposed to the oppressive wall of nothing Kai was projecting right now.
With a startled rush, Wes remembered that Leo’s team had been downtown, on their way back from exploring the forest, when they were attacked. And they were still a far distance out whenever the hordes had come in. Start on the outside and work you way in, right? As the most separated from society, they would have been ripe for the picking.
And they had missed it.
Wes wouldn’t criticize the blue ranger’s coping mechanisms, just like he would pointedly not think about Trip, whom had been fighting with the Lightspeed rangers, possibly never getting to see the light of day again.
Wes needed to get better at his mental pep talks. They seemed to lack a certain special something.
“What do we do?” Wes asked, trying not to sound lost. Beside him, acting as his dutiful shadow, Adam tensed, briefly, but it was enough that the Samurai ranger and Carter had caught it, and soon all the rangers were staring Wes’ way.
He ignored them, needing so very much to stay in the moment and listened, carefully. “Maintain course,” Kai replied, his voice low, almost robotic. “At this time it is the only logical plan of attack. Probability of success may have diminished slightly due to the already absorbed rangers, but it is our best option.”
“Will it be more powerful?” Angela asked, still spitting and cursing and rearranging the command room with what Wes assumed was an agitated fierceness.
“Yes,” Kai confirmed, not attempting to sugar coat. “It will also be more accustomed to the different power sources, meaning our previous goal of overwhelming it will be slightly more trying to achieve.”
“Is it still possible?” Angela asked, and wasn’t that the important question? Could they still win this? Would the possible cost outweigh the benefits?
The idea of retreating, of leaving their friends trapped, threatened the contents of Wes’ stomach to make an appearance, but he knew, dismayed, that it was a very distinct possibility. Were it needed.
There was a pause, just a brief hesitation of a second that confirmed Kai wasn’t entirely sure. “Whether it does or does not, the monster will only grow more accustomed to its new power over time. If we are to do it, it would be best to strike now.”
“Before it can get stronger,” Wes concluded quietly.
Down the road, he could see Justin making a few irritated gestures, conferring with the Samurai ranger as they, undoubtedly, tried to hack into the private channel. Eric and the red ninja stood not-so-subtlety over their shoulders.
“I’ll finish this zord fight as fast as I can,” Kai promised, sounding surprisingly intense for a guy not known for his piloting skills. “As soon as it’s ended, I’ll join you.”
“And I’ll be your eyes in the sky,” Angela added, and Wes realized all the resituating must have been the tech pulling together all the monitoring equipment. “I’ll review the footage until we can find the real one.”
“He’ll be fast,” Kai warned. “Based on energy consumption, and who his opponents-”
“Then I’ll get Sheila to scan for things my eyes can’t catch,” Angela snapped. The tension lingered for a second, neither man sure of what to say, before the scientist eventually sighed. “My husband is out there,” Angela said quietly. “Bring him home.”
“We will,” Wes promised, confidently speaking for all of them.
Kai shocked him by adding, somewhat passionately, “We will not yield.”
It did not seem like much, but from Kai it was the world and that, in itself, was enough to boost Wes’ spirits. To help him get a handle on the fear and anxiety and replace it with useful things he actually had control of.
When he signed off from the call, the blond noticed Adam had gained his own shadow, hanging upside down from a nearby lamppost, surprisingly well-hidden considering the blinding yellowness of his costume.
“They’ve been captured, haven’t they?” the ninja asked, trying to sound composed, but mostly sounding regretful, guilty, and sad.
Wes didn’t answer him, knowing, so very well, that there would be little he could offer the kid that would do him any good. Instead, he looked between Adam and the yellow ranger and motioned towards the others.
“Round everyone up,” he said, keeping his voice level, not faltering, not wavering. “There’s been a development.”
With a nod, they took off; the kid flying above their heads to the farthest groups to gather them together.
To say Justin was completely done with this as the rangers gathered around Wes, listening as he delivered the bad news, would be such a horrific understatement it would have insulted Leo’s intelligence, and that was after sustaining a head injury. And Justin hadn’t even been out in the open as long, fighting – as much as that irked him – but he had been dealing with this since the beginning, when it was just him with Wes and Eric hovering over his shoulders, trying to understand the void. When this thing was finished – not if, when, and that was a very important distinction the other rangers needed to recognize post-haste – he was interviewing every party involved, all of them, until a complete summary of events could be drawn up in thorough detail. Not only to learn from the mistakes, from poor communication to the overconfidence of the veteran teams, but to dole out the adjusted punishments to the respective parties where blame was due. The punishment could match the crime or greater; Justin didn’t care, so long as they learned something from it.
The part of him that wasn’t cynically calculating and determining potential courses of action was a little pissed that Rocky had managed to get himself nabbed. That dumbass should know better than that, should have retreated when he thought things were turning south. He had been around the block long enough to recognize that much.
To a lesser extent, Justin worried about Cassie and Ashley and Carlos, even spared some concern for TJ (who was just as obnoxious as Tommy, sometimes) and like some annoying all-knowing freak Adam rested a hand against his shoulder, demanding nothing, no words, but offering quiet support.
It was quite possible that he desperately needed something to ground him too, because Rocky meant more to him than he could ever mean to Justin (which, begrudgingly, was saying a lot). The gesture could have been more from a need to do something, right then, than for Justin’s benefit, but the Turbo ranger didn’t mind. He could understand the need to do something.
The other rangers, in their own way, mourned – briefly – for their captured teammates. Time Force was the best off, with only Trip’s absence (which didn’t, in any way, affect Justin, and so long as he kept repeating that mantra it would be true, because he didn’t have time to spare for emotional shit). Though it may have only been one guy, it was still Trip, who made up for what he lacked in fighting prowess with moral support that could not be rivaled. For them, his absence made the rest of his team more focused. Colder. Prepared.
Justin did not consciously imitate this mindset; it was unnecessary as it was already his default.
Carter stood apart from the others, though by the occasional bobbing of his helmet, Justin could tell he was on a private call with Angela. Unlike Wes, he had completely shut off his external radios and spoke in silence, updating their status, trading quiet support. It hadn’t surprised Justin that even Carter needed that sometimes too, and it surprised him less that Leo recognized this as well, and easily gave it to him. The brunette leaned against the Lightspeed ranger with his helmet tilted towards to the sky, as though searching for his space-bound boyfriend. The Galaxy ranger had taken the information in about as much stride as he did anything else, though exhaustion let it slip that his cheer was beginning to be a little more strained around the edges than it normally would have been.
A short distance away from the two red rangers, Zhane stood in quiet solemnity, scanning their surroundings with a thoroughness honed through frustration. He was close enough to lend support should he be needed, but for the most part he kept to himself, monitoring, focusing, and waiting.
Cassie had recounted to Justin stories of Zhane’s effectiveness in the field as a solo agent. Though his personality type left him seeking out the company of others, as an individual Zhane was not only a capable fighter, but a damn near deadly one as well. For now, he would cope. He was a soldier; that was what he was trained for.
The ninjas were the best off – by way of people – and the worst off, by way of feeling horribly guilty. It was screaming through their posture and they weren’t really even doing that much, holding eerily still in a way that suggested they had reached Defcon Seven, no excessive emoting was allowed, only focus, focus, and more focus.
Part of Justin wanted to reach out to the yellow ninja and comfort him, let him know this couldn’t have been foreseeable, the veterans hadn’t even noticed what was going on and they actually had access to a working communications system, but he knew a futile prospect when he saw one. Maybe when it was over, when they had won, Justin’s words could make a difference, but that wasn’t going to happen now.
He saved his breath for listening ears, and turned towards Wes, waiting. The red ranger was obviously allowing a moment for them to properly digest the news, and would speak again, soon. They needed a new plan.
Catching his look, the blond took it as a cue and walked over, Eric and Lucas on his heels, strides matching in eerie uniformity.
“Angela confirmed the other placeholders are down,” Wes began with no preamble. “Not surprising, considering the results you guys had.”
“That only leaves the…PotStopper, then,” Eric said, working around the unfamiliar phrase. Despite the mouthy-ness of one of their Doompots, apparently the monsters hadn’t been all that forthcoming when it came to sharing their actual name. Hell, that bit of information came from pissing off the General in space.
“It will come to us then.” Adam’s helmet was trained in the distance, glancing down the length of the street both ways, considering what they had to work with. “We should bunker down, hide ourselves in defensible locations and wait it out.”
“And in the meantime, what? We let it wreak havoc on the city?” Eric sounded two-parts incredulous and one-part annoyed, like he couldn’t believe Adam of all people had come up with such a - in his opinion - stupid plan. “That thing has eighteen rangers’ worth of energy backing it up; who knows what kind of damage it could do.”
Justin stepped to Adam’s defense, knowing full-well the black ranger was right. “Look around Meyers; the city’s already been havoked.”
“And it wasn’t the replicant that was doling out the damage,” Lucas continued for him, voice level and hard. “That was the placeholders. We haven’t even gotten eyes on the real one yet.”
“We don’t know its power, but we do know what it wants.” If Adam had been shaken by Eric’s interruption, he made no show of it. “Something with that much capability is going to be programmed to carry out its assigned detail. It’s not going to have the ability to analyze the situation and decide enough is enough; it’s going to finish the job. That’s how these monsters work, we all know that.”
He didn’t sound annoyed as he said this, because that wasn’t Adam’s way, but there was a certain edge to his words that made them more weighted than his usual steady delivery.
“We’ll hide.” Wes decided this with a nod, helmet considering the black Mighty Morphin’ ranger before turning to the surrounding buildings, sizing up what they had by way of cover. “We stay in constant radio contact and we hide and we wait for this thing to find us.”
“And then what?” Eric asked. “We go for the power shot again?”
“It’s our best option,” his teammate replied. There was a shrug too, but it, combined with his tone, made it feel like this was a conversation the blond had already been a part of, and even then there had been less than pleasurable results.
Shit. They – Angela and Kai – weren’t sure if this was going to work.
But were Justin being honest, he would admit that it probably was their best shot, at this point. He couldn’t think of any better options either.
And it had everyone- everyone and Trip and Cassie and Ashley and-
This was the only thing they had left. They couldn’t let it grab them too.
“I’ll tell the Guardians to hold tight,” Eric said eventually. “Get them in position in case we get some more of those henchmen things.”
“Kelzaks,” Wes corrected automatically.
The other man shrugged. “Whatever.”
But Wes didn’t hear it. He had already moved on to contacting the Samurai ranger. After a few seconds Justin realized he was getting the green ranger to coordinate with his team to pick out the most strategic hiding places. It was decided, with a quiet murmur of agreement from Adam, that the ninjas would be divided among the remaining rangers, all with functioning equipment, to keep the lines of communication open. And also because apparently the ninjas were the best hiders ever, but seeing as Adam wasn’t actually disagreeing with that, Justin figured there must be some truth to this. Flashy outfits and penchant for chaos-attraction aside.
Time to settle down; they were going to war.
And wasn’t that a damn comforting thought?
The new monster didn’t speak.
There was barely a presence to him, and had Shane not been looking, eyes peeled as he hid in the shadows of their commandeered apartment, he would never have noticed the creature casually strolling down the street, gait subdued and graceful, unbefitting of the glowing pot strapped to its back, oversized and ugly, pulsing and taunting. That was it. That was the thing.
And it was lightning fast.
Jesus, it moved in a heartbeat, in the seconds between an eyelid flicker, so little time, moved from the street to there, right in front of him, no colored trail behind him indicating a streak or any powered movement other than instantaneous travel. It moved in silence and without color, it moved in deadly nonexistence, he moved, and it knew exactly where they all were.
One of the main requirements of being a leader that Shane had honed into himself early on was the ability to adapt a plan on the fly. It was necessary, Sensei had stressed, over and over and over again, that no matter how well you strategized for a particular situation, no plan lasted past the initial contact with the opposition. There were too many variables. Too many things that couldn’t be accounted for.
Shane made an executive decision and engaged, accessing his reserve stamina to buy the veterans some distance. Negating any direct contact would complicate the situation, but there was an office chair just in reach whose owner probably wouldn’t mind its sacrifice for the greater good.
He moved, conscious of the surprised swears behind him - Commander Meyers and the blue Turbo ranger still shocked by the thing’s presence - and grabbed the chair, smashing it into the PotStopper’s chest before it could lunge for the Quantum ranger.
It fell, underestimating his response time, and Shane used that second – it would only be a second, he realized, horror and despair building in his stomach - to snap the cushions and wheels away from the support strut of the chair, leaving him with a crude, plastic bat that would probably withstand about five seconds of intense combat, given the forces he was about to put it through. Task done, he followed the monster’s trail out the window, onto the street below.
The thing moved again, and Shane recognized just how optimistic it would be if he even got five seconds.
He was barely deflecting its blows, evading punches by the margin of a hair, his body tense and pulsing and so terribly unable to revert to its usual loose grace because it was all he could do to keep moving, it was all he could do to use everything he had to dodge this thing and that was terrifying, terror that was eventually going to win out with exhaustion, and they would have nothing to show for it.
Tori and Blake’s swift arrivals were both a blessing and a curse; the navy ranger armed with an umbrella, of all things, whereas the water ninja had actually managed to find a baseball bat. They couldn’t risk their swords, Shane reminded himself, couldn’t risk those extensions of the suits not to count as physical contact in their own right. Even as Dustin was throwing himself into the battle, crowbar in hand (because he would find a crowbar, wouldn’t he) with Cam a moment behind him, armed with a walking stick, their odds of survival were diminishing.
This must have been why it had waited to attack them last. Before, they could have taken it; they had speed, they could have done something, but now they were barely hanging on by the tips of their fingernails, grasping to keep up with the monster, to keep it occupied and to allow an opening for a shot, to minimize the damage, to not run into each other, to flow and to read their movements and read its movements and somehow in all that Cam was communicating with the others, half-words barked out to get them to shoot, to fire, damned if they were in the way.
Shane didn’t know if they were holding off because they didn’t want to risk hitting his team, or if it was just because they were going so slow, couldn’t move fast enough to keep up. All of this was happening at speeds Shane had never really trained at, faster than a shadow battle, because it had to be, but it was all he could do to find the proper footing and move, ensuring he didn’t run into Tori, ensuring his next move wouldn’t run into Cam, trying to get the right angle-
It was too much, for any of them. It couldn’t have worked full time. On an intimate level, Shane knew this.
Somehow, that didn’t make what followed any easier.
It happened in an instant, in a flash of barely breathing, barely moving, trying to judge the right trajectory- and then Dustin’s body was flying past him in an awkward tumble, all loose limbs and dead weight, scraping the cement blacktop with painful force until his momentum was jarred to a sudden halt by an overturned Silver Guardian SUV. His limp body smashed into the side, rocking it, metal screeching in protest at the sudden assault, before righting itself, the yellow ranger falling to the ground, unmoving. The morph failed, his suit powering down in a flash of almost sympathetic yellow light, dissolving around him until all that was left was just a battered teenager in his ninja suit, unconscious against the ground.
He was bleeding, Shane could see it, he was bleeding-
It fell apart faster than it had begun; chaos erupting from the ranger’s hiding places. It took too many seconds for Shane to realize that Tori had been next, her flight inconvenienced by a fire hydrant to her side, busting open a geyser of water and leaving her suit-less as her journey ended in the wall beyond it, bricks and mortar crumbling around her in a way that was almost artful, beautiful in a sickening, horrifying way.
Why wasn’t it taking them? Why was it-?
Suffering. It was making them suffer; Lothor would never have made it easy, he was going to break them and then he was going to take the others and make them understand just exactly how responsible they were for the destruction of the Earth.
Blake might have gone through a window, Shane couldn’t tell because it was just him and Cam; the green ranger taking on the brunt of the work because Shane’s improvised weapon had failed such a long time ago, though it was probably seconds and Shane could do nothing but distract, nothing but watch as the Samurai ranger took a blow that would stagger them even on their greatest day, sending him up and over and out of sight, up onto the rooftops, leaving Shane alone, alone, alone.
Please Hunter, Shane begged, thoughts unbidden but stubbornly present as he shifted, escaping the monster’s fist by narrower and narrower margins. Please don’t come. For once, please, don’t come.
He knew the blond would hate it, hate him, but Shane wanted with a desperation unbefitting of words, for someone to get out of this mess okay. For someone to survive, to live on.
He held onto this prayer even as he stumbled, the ground beneath his feet uneven and crumbling from past battles, leaving him wide open. He knew it, and even though it all seemed too fast to be real, there was time for him to agonize over his inability to stop it, knowing there was not time to duck or to move, and no energy to do it with.
The hit to his shoulder was brief but excruciating, and Shane was almost grateful when physics took over and sent him rocketing down the street, off towards that blue battle jeep the Turbo ranger had arrived in. His legs made contact with its side and sent him windmilling across its roof, allowing him the dignity to power down out of sight on the dirty, abused ground.
For a moment he struggled to latch onto his consciousness, knowing it was important, for some reason he couldn’t remember, it was important.
And then it all went black.
“Jesus, what the hell-”
“He’s here, people get your-”
“Oh my god.”
“Everyone aim, we need to-”
“Jesus,” Eric repeated, a curse used rarely in reverence to his mother, who had been a woman of faith, as he surveyed the scene, feeling like it had happened in the course of two seconds.
A heart attack in itself, seeing that thing rear its ugly head from outta nowhere, and the kids were already moving – amateurs (though the insult could be misplaced purely on the merits of that thing’s speed) - they were doing what they could, giving everyone time to set up, and then-
And then it was all over; bodies flying in loose arcs, all limp, sickening, these were kids, damn it, they shouldn’t be doing this stuff- and then that thing had nothing to occupy it, nothing to stop it from doing its unearthly instant-jumps and zapping them up like it was nothing, none of them were fast enough, damn it.
Except for one crazy son of a bitch that was trying very hard to earn his verification for insanity.
Adam was not as fast as those kids were, he wasn’t, even Eric could begrudgingly admit this. He was a ninja too, and he was probably the fastest guy they had left, but he wasn’t in their league. He moved in as soon as he saw the last three begin to fall. He must have, because he was already down on the ground, baseball bat in hand, stepping in to finish what had been started, knowing someone had to.
Eric, who had been using a borrowed Chrono Blaster from Lucas, readied his weapon to fire, listening to Wes as he counted off their marks, preparing for one last, stunning attack.
A scream cut into the strained countdown halfway to “Two”, and Eric barely registered it, just as he barely perceived the attack happening before him.
“ADAM!!” Wes yelled over the com-lines, and Eric was surprised he managed to get the entire name out, honestly, and noticed in a detached sort of way that the Mighty Morphin’ ranger was disappearing in sheen of black energy.
One moment there.
The next, nothing.
Dustin must have had an unfortunate battle with a cinderblock, because his head, when it wasn’t pins and needles and pulsing vagueness, was doing a very good impression of a battered punching bag. After Hunter had gotten to it.
He ached. Every part of him ached and throbbed and wanted really badly to shut down, to take a breather or something, but he couldn’t. Like, he didn’t exactly remember why he couldn’t have a nap right now, but usually bruises and headaches and so very many scrapes led to things like Tori and Cam yelling at him, and usually it got worse if he tried to pass out in the middle, so awareness, yeah, that was a thing he should do.
Dustin frowned, groan escaping as he shifted against the…asphalt? He didn’t know. The familiar slickness of his ninja robes meant he must have been fighting (or running?) so that would explain the- oh, nertz, he was bleeding- must have hit his head. Head wounds were the freakin’ worst, they bled so much and made Cam all quiet and tense, and Dustin didn’t like making Cam all super-withdrawn, he just had a natural tendency to get smashed into things. It wasn’t like he did it on purpose.
There was yelling- Hunter probably. Hunter loved him some monster-taunting. It was his unofficial most-favorite pastime, after bothering Cam and private ‘sparring’ sessions with Shane. Yeah, Dustin knew what they did at those. He knew. They were not nearly as super-secret-stealthy as they thought they were.
Also, Cyber Cam was everywhere, and Dustin was kind of his best pal. So he got all the good gossip, and Blake could keep throwing his puppy eyes wherever he wanted but Dustin was not going to share, Blake did not need that kind of edge when dealing with his teammates. If Blake ever got more dirt than he naturally acquired by just moping around inconspicuously (and they all fell for it, because he was sneaky), they might as well cut down the idea of private stuff altogether, because there wouldn’t be any.
Was he rambling? Dustin felt like he was rambling, which was weird, because he thought you needed to talk to do that.
He shifted again, a fresh way of oooow racing up his right side – knee, he must have smacked it against something – and tried to get his arms under him, blinking through the curls plastered against his face in an attempt to figure out where he freakin’ was.
His back was covered, that was good, it beat being out in the open, but what had he been doing? There was some more shouting which– thanks Hunter – wasn’t doing a lot for his headache. The brunette managed to leverage himself to his feet with an unstable wobble, scrunching his nose at the disgusting mixture of sweat and blood permeating his clothes and- what was that? Oil or gasoline, maybe; the smells were mixed and they blended too well into the dark material of his uniform to be distinguishable, but his second home had been his dad’s auto shop growing up and he could place those odors any day. A car then, was his shelter. Not bad. Not great, but it could be worse.
He wished Hunter would shut up though.
Dustin tried to steady himself, eyes blinking away the blur in his vision (concussion maybe? Shoot, he hated those) as he struggled to fight off the pain and haziness. It was fight time, he had to help his team or else Hunter would spend the rest of the day mocking him for laying down on the job, and as entertaining as the blond’s made up theme songs were for “Lazyboy, Champion of fail”, Dustin wasn’t sure his head could manage the onslaught.
Also, you know, teamwork.
“Hun-” Dustin tried, immediately cutting himself off with a pained groan as the world went spinning, everything revolting against the simple action of talking.
Yep, definitely a concussion.
He hoped someone was covering him, because he was the sitting-ist of ducks out here. Further in front of him (down the street, maybe?) there was some movement, but it was fast and too blurred for Dustin to focus on it with his pounding head. He felt a cool trickle of wetness make its way down the back of his neck – that would be a pain to wash out later – and willed away the nausea through sheer force of panic.
They were fighting, therefore he should be fighting. That seemed like fairly straightforward logic.
No, DUSTIN. There was a distinct difference. Like the consonant-to-vowel ratio was way off, and his name was longer, and even if it was just a random guess, Dustin couldn’t help but be annoyed. He didn’t look like an Adam, did he?
Nah, he was definitely more of a ‘Parker’ or a ‘Wayne’ than an ‘Adam’. Clearly. He would have to bring that to Hunter’s attention later so they could give it the properly detailed discussion it deserved, but for the moment Dustin would stick to correcting this grievous error.
The energy, he caught. The energy was familiar, something close to what Dustin knew, like when he and the others accessed their elements. The color made him pause, because no one was black – not even Hunter, who would protest that on principle, but come on, that dude was crimson and they all knew it. There was…a body? A ranger, yeah, that was a ranger, had to be. The suit and helmet you know, kind of a giveaway, but why was there a black ranger standing in the middle of the blurry place?
Was Dustin hallucinating again? Yeah, the qualifier was completely intended, it had happened enough times for there to be a system developed with dealing with it appropriately (a system that ended in hot chocolate and marshmallows for all). Hallucinations were almost as bad as concussions because usually they ended with him dancing horrifically in an inconvenient place, and if Blake and Hunter were his only company they would have just taken pictures and laughed because that was their dumb way of bonding (it was bonding, not hazing, there was a difference, in that it was Dustin and not Cam).
At least Tori would only take a few pictures before she stopped him. Like, she minimized the damage at least, to his pride.
Dustin had some of that, sometimes. Not a lot of times, but sometimes.
He didn’t think the ranger was a hallucination.
He didn’t think the smoke lingering in the air, pouring from broken down vehicles littered across the roads was a mirage, nor the smells of gas and sweat, the concrete and tarmac crumbed and smashed all around him an illusion. It was coming to him, slowly but surely, this was something, they had been doing something.
The black ranger, and the Doompot – it had been faster, so fast, Dustin hadn’t known how he had lasted as long as he had, purely moving off of instinct and reflex. There had been no time to think, he just had to move and duck, lunge and hit while he could because that thing was going to trap all of them and it would be his fault.
The ranger was not familiar, but the way he simply vanished in a haze of light was, so much that it hurt. It was all there; the disbelief that one of his team had been picked up, the mild worry when it had become two, then three, panic when it got down to just two of them and then despair, overwhelming fear when it was just him. Just him, the special ninja, who was the very best team player because he couldn’t, for the life of him, actually lead. Couldn’t be expected to come up with plans that were straight forward and effective. Maybe one, but not the other. It had been one of his bigger weaknesses at the academy, his equivalent to the notes teachers added at the bottom of your report card, and even as a ranger he hadn’t gotten much better.
And now look at where it had gotten them.
The ranger disappeared the same way Shane had, the way Tori had, the way Hunter and Blake and Cam had, fighting to escape the energy with everything he had, pulling away like there was still a chance at freedom. He struggled, body writhing in the air as he was held suspended, stubborn and valiant and brave, and for a second, one brief second, Dustin thought he might actually make it. Thought maybe if anyone could, the crazy guy taking on the super-speed monster all by himself would be it.
The light faded, and he was gone, leaving nothing but a stoic Doompot behind, posed still like it was considering its options. Stupid, stupid, what did it need to think about, it was faster and stronger than all of them, what, was it just mocking him? Mocking those who were left?
Okay, forget that noise. Dustin was done with this.
It was time to clean up his own mess instead of leaving it for others, and he didn’t care how much he hurt (because Hunter hurt) or how scared he was (because Shane worried more than all of them), it was ending, and it was ending now.
Before someone else got taken.
“HEY!” The effort made his head spin, but Dustin pushed it aside. “Hey UGLY! Yeah, you- you jerkface!”
He stumbled forward, ignoring a surge of discomfort as the monster slowly turned its head towards him, devoid of any emotions. Dustin ignored it, and used it to fuel his anger instead, taking a page from Hunter’s book as he limped faster, trying to close the distance.
“I-” he gasped. “Have had-” Gasp. “-just about enough of you and your stupid-”
He tripped on a loose piece of rubble and paused, making a split-second decision to hold his ground, maybe fifteen feet away.
“-You,” he declared, pointing a threatening finger. “You don’t get to take us like it’s nothing, and I’m tired of you, and I. Have. HAD. IT!” He held his ground as that sickening gaze zeroed in on him. “I am sick of you and sick of your stupid doom-pot army and I’m sick of you kidnapping my teammates and leaving alone rangers who should apparently never be left alone because they do things like accidentally steal ray-guns that they had just really wanted to borrow and had every intention of returning and I know it’s my fault, like blocking our signals and getting chased around by a giant dinosaur monster you just really want to be friends with, and you can mess with me fine, I guess I deserve it, but stop screwing with other rangers you stupid piece of doompot man!!!”
Dustin sucked in a quick gasp of air, his lungs wavering with exertion from the strain of holding it in, body tense and ready. Ready as it would ever be. He was kind of surprised he had gotten this far.
Surprised, but glad, because he would be the one to stop this. No more Hunters getting broken down or Shanes being worried. No more.
Dustin reached down, calling forth whatever energy he had left, the Earth singing beneath his feet, and glared down the monster with everything he had, calling his energy-grubbing hands like a beacon, shining in the distance.
“Power of Earth!”
It flowed, yellow light weaving around him, a comforting protection, and the monster’s eyes lit up, blindly moving forward, reaching out towards its prize.
The plan- it wasn’t a great plant, but it was what Dustin had- while it might not work, he had to try.
He summoned his element, pulled the power in until he couldn’t, then tried for more, attempting to channel the most he had ever reached for, body trembling from the strain, burning, white at the edge of his vision.
“Power of Water!”
In a second, the monster’s head was ratcheting away, intrigued by the aqua lights dancing around Tori, who was half-soaked and all-anger, fury and power and determination wrapped all in one.
“Power of Air!”
Shane, he was-
“Power of Thunder!”
Holy Cheese Nips, it was Cam, yelling down from the rooftops in a blaze of green brilliance, energy field brighter than the rest of them.
There were too many points for it to focus on now, eyes glazed and wanting all of them, whipping back and forth as it attempted to decide who to go after first. It would probably be Cam, he had the most energy, but Dustin was going to fight him for that honor and pushed for more, more, until the burning phased out all feeling like a void. He was a black hole, an enigma, the- Superman, or something.
No, he was a ranger.
“Time for, Time Force!”
The yell came from somewhere to his right, beyond his cocoon of energy, and was a rally cry for more to follow, one on top of the other in an unorganized mob.
“Shift into Turbo!”
“Power of Fire!”
That one got Dustin’s attention, what little he could spare because this…this was so hard. He didn’t regret looking though. The vortex of flames was really something to see, surrounding one of the red guy’s that had followed them down onto the street.
“Power of Water!” A male voice, not Tori, joined in the shouting, up on the rooftops with Cam. His suit was the same as the fire guy’s, which must mean something, but all Dustin could think was hold-it, hold-it, hold-it and wowthisissocool.
It came from behind him, the- oh hey, Eric-friend, that was the guy, another non-dinosaur blaster held tightly in his hands as he marched to Dustin’s side, body rigid with focus, covered in sparks of black and red light.
They were doing it. They were really, really doing it.
Dustin wasn’t sure who made the first move, or if they somehow managed to sync their minds through sheer force of morphin’ energy, because they attacked simultaneously; beams and lasers and freakin’ lightning strikes raining down in an explosion of colors, blinding, dazzling, amazing, and all focused on that stupid Doompot face.
For a second, they were the most powerful group of individuals in the universe, and Dustin took a moment to revel in that.
Then, the tide started turning.
The hit didn’t take like it had with the last guy. It wasn’t a stationary wall they were blasting into, it was a sponge; a really stubborn, really resistant sponge. Like, if Hunter had been reincarnated into a monster and you know, somehow existed at the same time as not-monster Hunter- okay, it wasn’t a perfect example, but it was a lot like that.
It took everything in, and if it had vocal cords Dustin knew it would have been flinging maniacal laughter all over the place, like a psychopathic boss, because that was something he kind of wanted to do and he was fighting the stupid thing.
But at this point, they were kind of committed; no more time outs, no more breaks, no more chatter, just- It was this or death and Dustin really, really didn’t feel like being responsible for a bunch of awesome people’s murders. That didn’t seem fair.
Because even if he didn’t like, know them, if they were anything like his team (and Dustin loved his team, so much so he resorted to crayon drawings and interpretive dances with Tori to express this, because words just weren’t enough), then they were all spectacular individuals that deserved more than a Doompot death.
No, screw that (yeah, he thought it, Dustin could be badass); he wasn’t going to stop here. They were going to win and have celebratory waffles, and he was going to befriend the Q-Rex so they could go on adventures with Blake and Hunter and listen to them gush over the robot’s ‘adaptable battle capabilities’ or whatever, and help rebuild this poor city, and then go back to being the dumb, unnoticed guy on the team, because things were easier that way.
They just needed a little more-
“Power of Thunder!”
Lightning- crimson lightning, to be specific- flew down from the rooftops and- okay, first of all Shane was going to murder him, but after that, Dustin would squeeze the living daylight of the stupid guy because of course Hunter would make the most dramatic entrance ever. He was such a drama queen. He was even a drama queen about protesting the label ‘drama queen’, it was ridiculous.
Like, maybe the shirts Dustin and Tori and Blake had made about being members of ‘the Queen’s Court’ had been a little too much, but what else were they supposed to do when given free access to Kelly’s t-shirt press? They were only human.
He felt it, in the haze of his broken train of thought, he could finally feel the…maybe the boundaries, of the sponge, the Doompot. They had made it to the edge of its capacity- wait, they had done it! They were actually overloading it, they could do this, they were doing this-
It held, stubbornly, despite their pushes. They were so close though, Dustin knew it, they just needed-
The gun. He still had that. It was there, attached to the belt of his ninja robe. He had almost forgotten it because, well, it wasn’t part of his usual arsenal, right? But it was there, and no one else was using it, so…
He grabbed the gun and shifted, leveling it in front of him (so weird, it was always weird; Dustin didn’t have a ranged weapon like Shane and Tori) and pulled, then pushed then- well, there was a chance Dustin wasn’t entirely sure what happened next.
His light disappeared. His nest of golden energy just…vanished, leaving him blinking against the sudden onslaught of sunlight and smoky air, both of which had been held at bay and-
Holy crap that was the biggest laser blast ever.
The gun fired; a mixture of his energy and dinosaur energy and just really freakin’ big, knocking him clean off his feet with the force of it, so huge, so much, and so very headed for the Doompot jerkface that had started it all.
His back hit something (which was weird, because he had moved away from the car) and then Dustin was too busy covering his eyes from the freakishly huge explosion to bother thinking about it too much, because holy smaltz, that was a lot of color and he wanted to be able to use his eyes for the rest of his life.
He blinked, hands pressed against his eyelids, waiting for the ringing to stop and, you know, if the world could stop spinning too that would be awesome, but Dustin wasn’t super picky. He was willing to just take silence from the ringing noise.
It took a few seconds for him to realize he was huddling against something, and that something had arms and also, it should be noted, that the something was laughing and though Dustin didn’t really know why, it seemed kind of rude not to join in, since the something was pretty much the only thing keeping him standing at the moment.
Cautiously, Dustin pulled the Q-Defender, still grasped loosely in one hand, away, and took a timid look at the remains of the Doompot.
He’d expected to see maybe a handful of things.
None of those things included the explosion of rangers scattered across the street, like, a dozen new ones at least, that all looked like they had seen much better days.
Wow. That had always been the goal, but he just hadn’t thought it would take a super mega team up to make it happen. Maybe his brain still wasn’t accepting what was going on or something, wasn’t really trusting the ranger dog piles peppered across the broken road, but there they were, and they had won.
The something stopped laughing with a shake of its head.
“Kid,” the something – oh, he knew that voice, it was a grumpy guy, who he still had yet to look at because everyone was safe and there was no Doompot and Dustin was kind of very happy about this. “You’re crazy.”
“We won,” he whispered again.
And then he promptly passed out.