Foward on the Foe
So Dustin sometimes forgot about things.
And yeah, it happened enough that no one was terribly surprised when it occurred (which sucked because he really did try) but usually it was over small enough stuff that no one had to sweat it too much anyway.
And then this thing happened, and his friends were kidnapped and Dustin had to quest to save their souls (and the re-telling was far more epic than the actual event; luckily Cyber Cam was super happy with embellishing the tale as opposed to stating the actual truth) and then Dustin saved them, and they were free and Dustin may have been so happy/ecstatic/overjoyed/over-enthused/over-the-moon that Cam and Shane and Hunter and Tori and Blake were all there and okay and not damaged in any way, shape, or form to remember that he still had to return a certain borrowed piece of Dino-property.
Dustin would like to pretend that he remembered the dinosaur gun the morning after the battle and dutifully went to return it.
The reality was that he discovered it when looking for his favorite sweatshirt about a week later, and it took a couple of seconds before he actually remembered what it was.
Which…was kind of depressing if you thought about it, because that also meant he’d left his bike abandoned in the woods outside Silver Hills for like, five days too many. And the dinosaur gun, there weren’t many of those (yes, he knew, there was only one of those) so seeing it should have instigated instant mental clickage from point A (gun) to point B (bike) to point C (return gun and retrieve bike), but instead Dustin was just trying to figure out exactly which of his teammates was trying to recruit him for a new nerf-gun war.
He knew it wasn’t Cam. Cam had already forbidden all nerf-gun wars. Cam was the reason the supposed-nerf gun had been stealthily stealthed into Dustin’s backpack.
It probably wasn’t Tori. Tori preferred her wars to include water pistols and super soakers and they had unanimously agreed after the last time she had almost drowned them all that home-element advantage was not fair. She didn’t complain, which was pretty cool of her because they all knew Shane sometimes guided the nerf bullets with air currents. They just figured it was a good exercise in teamwork because whoever bribed Shane the best got to win. Yay, go teamwork.
So yeah, not Cam and not Tori. It could be Hunter but-
And then the adventures of dinosaur gun and new-friend Eric immediately came to mind and Dustin remembered that super secret mission he had gone on and ray guns that had been borrowed and-
He needed to return the dino-gun. Definitely. He also needed to pick up his bike (even if he had cloaked it with whatever doodad Cam had given him. Dustin was honestly surprised he hadn’t noticed it missing until now but hey, it had been a busy week) and then he needed to trade email addresses with Eric. It wasn’t like he actually needed to since Cyber Cam had already downloaded like, all of Eric’s contacts and information whenever he was sick, but it never hurt to be polite.
“What’s that Dustin?”
Enter Hunter fresh from…something. Wait, yeah, movie night. Dustin was going to do movie night with Blake and Hunter (Cam having to decline because they might have blown out like, half of the power spheres fending off the last alien attack) but Dustin had been cold so he’d gone looking for his favorite sweatshirt and-
Yes, that brought him full circle.
“It’s a dinosaur gun,” Dustin explained, holding up the life-saving blaster carefully. “I had to borrow it to break you guys out of the doom pot.”
Everyone had been completely behind him in naming said doom pot (though they all agreed that Hunter’s ‘hate-pot-of-stupid’ was a close and worthy second).
Hunter tilted his head, studying the dino-weapon.
“That looks like…” he blinked, then leaned closer. “Wait, did you get that from the Quantum Ranger?”
Aloof, casual, too-cool-to-exert-energy Hunter was almost immediately replaced by omg-this-thing-in-your-hands-holds-the-key-to-my-life Hunter and the blond teen was at Dustin’s side in an instant, relieving him of the dinosaur gun with the beginnings of some epic fan-boying going down.
“Yeah, Quantum. That’s what Cyber Cam said,” Dustin replied, snapping his fingers as the thought dawned on him. Man, he sucked at remembering names. “Do you know him?”
Hunter attempted to suppress a look that said Dustin’s statement was not totally the stupidest thing he had ever said, but it was awfully close. Probably feeling polite because he was so excited and stuff and Dustin was the coolest person who ever borrowed dinosaur guns ever.
“No,” Hunter murmured distractedly, running his fingers up and down the sides of the Quantum gun. “He was a ranger a couple of years ago; one of the few public ones. Blake and I used to watch him-”
“Is that what I think it is?”
Speak of the devil. Dustin had about three seconds before his face was full of floor as he was roughly pushed to the side, Blake taking his old spot on the other side of the borrowed ranger weapon.
“Dude Dustin,” Blake breathed, huge smile plastered on his face as he eyed Hunter’s new toy. “How did you get the Quantum Defender?”
To which Dustin replied, “It has a name?”
Because that was the important part, and then he received two very impatient stares from the Bradley brothers because he obviously needed to get with the program or they would die.
Dustin shrugged. “I needed to get a weapon from another ranger to break the doom pot. Eric was the closest.”
“Eric?” Hunter echoed, super incredulous and sharing said super incredulous look with his brother. “You’re on a first name basis?”
“Well yeah,” Dustin replied. “I told him my name and I already knew his name; it wasn’t like we had to be formal and-” He stopped as their disbelieving/slightly-in-awe looks got slightly more disbelieving/in-awed. “Seriously guys, this isn’t a big deal. We’re both rangers.”
“Yeah but he’s a public ranger,” Blake said, getting uncharacteristically passionate about something that wasn’t Tori or racing. “One of the few. And he still has an active morpher. He helps run the Silver Guardians in Silver Hills and he’s-” Blake shared a quick look with Hunter as though it should be obvious why they were spazzing over friend-Eric. “He’s a hero.”
“Dude,” Dustin said, starting to get confused. “You’re a hero too. You don’t see me freaking out over being graced with your presence.”
“That’s different,” Blake scoffed, folding his arms.
“What he’s saying,” Hunter jumped in, eyes back to studying the Quantum whatever-ma-bob. “Is that he’s a ranger that’s constantly under the public’s scrutiny and he still works here. Not like the Space rangers-”
Before Dustin could ask Blake cut in to explain. “They mostly just travel across the galaxy to help others.”
“Yeah, yeah,” Hunter mumbled, holding the gun up as though he were going to shoot something. “But the Quantum Ranger and Red Time Force Ranger, they stayed here and kept doing what they did best, even if everyone knew who they were.”He put the gun down and stared at Dustin seriously. “You’ve got to respect something like that.”
And Dustin could see it. Because they were ninjas and like, rule number one was to never be seen, never be known or acknowledged. Ultimate secrecy. They couldn’t, they literally could not be public rangers; it went against everything they stood for, everything they knew. And besides that, they were comfortable here in the shadows, out of the limelight. It was where they had learned to survive.
Dustin could understand why Blake and Hunter respected the Time Force guys so much now. They had a lifestyle that just was unimaginable for any of the Ninja Storm team and the Bradley’s appreciated the hardships the public rangers must encounter for what they were.
Dustin broke the moment of silent contemplation they had fallen into, clearing his throat as he took back the Quantum blast ray.
“Well I need to go back to Silver Hills and return it. And you know,” he added, just a little bit quieter. “Get my bike back too.”
Blake and Hunter were nice enough guys that they didn’t rag on Dustin for his forgetfulness too much (hey, a little was to be expected) and Dustin was in the middle of figuring out exactly how he was supposed to get back to Silver Hills when Hunter began dragging him towards the stairway up from Ninja Ops.
“I’ll give you a lift there,” Hunter explained, and Dustin didn’t need to look behind them to know Blake was going too. “No need to bother Tori if we’ve got perfectly good bikes.”
They headed to the bike shed and the younger brother coughed. “Exactly, we can handle this.”
Which was the Bradley way of saying they didn’t want anyone else to see how badly they were going to fanboy over new-friend Eric, but Dustin didn’t comment on that because he was an awesome friend and awesome friends could keep secrets.
They informed Cam and his cyber duplicate before they left; Dustin clinging on to Hunter’s back as they hit the open road and made the couple-hour drive to Silver Hills.
This was going to be a fun road trip. He was going to get so many pictures.
(Hey, just because he kept secrets did not mean he couldn’t have photographic evidence. The world needed proof of Bradley über-excitement, otherwise how would they know it was real?).
*Two Days Before*
And that was all the information Wes got after Eric burst through his office door. Not that Wes wasn’t grateful for the distraction, because he was doing paperwork and paperwork was the epitome of awful, but he could really do with the Quantum Ranger not tearing through all his filing cabinets. Also, he was pretty sure (and by this he meant definitely sure) that Eric was still supposed to be on bed rest, not contaminating the rest of them with whatever super-cold he had gotten infected with.
But Eric had that set in his shoulders that said he was on a mission and Wes knew the only way to deal with Eric in this state was to either help him or knock him unconscious, tie him up, and then force him to watch bad reality television until he either decided his mission wasn’t worth it or that his new mission was to destroy Wes.
In all honesty, Wes was leaning towards the second option.
Unfortunately he still hadn’t replaced his rope from the last time he had to resort to option two, so Wes went ahead and put his paperwork aside, watching Eric calmly as the other ranger frantically ripped open another one of his filing cabinets.
“And it’s not funny,” Eric was muttering, continuing under his breath from where Wes had been ignoring him. “You think it’s funny because it’s the type of thing you would think is funny, which just goes to show your sense of humor is atrocious, don’t deny it, we all know it is. You’re a child Wes, a child-”
“What are you looking for?” Wes asked. Things would go much faster if he could hand over whatever it was Eric thought he had supposedly taken.
Eric paused to glare at him, then went back to digging through Wes’ cabinets, making sure to create a mess of things.
If Eric had to suffer, Wes had to suffer.
“You know what I’m-”
“Just tell me,” Wes sighed, taking his stupid beret off and getting out of his chair so that if Eric moved to destroy another drawer he could tackle his sorry ass.
If he was well enough to ruin Wes’ filing cabinets he was well enough to get smacked the hell down.
Eric stopped and glared again but he knew the drill; humoring Wes enough to let the blond in on the joke (whatever it was).
“The Quantum Defender.”
Nope. That had not been what Wes was expecting.
“Why would I take your gun?” Wes asked before he had a chance to think of an appropriate response.
Eric visibly restrained himself from chucking a file at him. “Because you’re stupid.”
“Let me rephrase that,” Wes said, pinching the bridge of his nose because Eric was feeling so…well, Eric-y. “I didn’t take your gun.”
“Of course you didn’t,” Eric scoffed, restarting his rummage through Wes’ files. “You’ve just been visiting my house the last couple days and it vanished.”
“Have you tried-”
“What do you think my house looks like?” Eric growled, nose scrunched as he waved a file at Wes threateningly. “I already checked there. Everywhere. I thought, hey, maybe Wes hid it. Maybe he moved it. Whatever. But it’s nowhere.” He tossed a file over his shoulder and part of Wes pouted, watching sadly as the papers flop out of it and onto the floor. “So if it’s nowhere in my house that means you-”
“Are you sure?” Wes asked, because if Eric was right then that meant-
“YES!” Eric shouted, only turning away from Wes to give his cabinet the stink eye; severely tempted to knock it over for not having the Quantum Defender within its bowels but Wes was too occupied to worry about that because-
“Eric I don’t have it.”
This was not good.
Eric shook his head, turning his attention off the offending cabinet. “I’m not playing games here Wes-”
“Eric,” Wes began again, staring the other ranger dead in the eyes. “I don’t have it.”
They stood there for a minute, Eric’s chest heaving with the exertion of chewing out Wes and the blond man feeling slightly numb because-
“Then who does?” Eric asked, even though he knew, he had to know.
“Well,” Wes said, knowing he was going to have to break it to the other man. “Who else has been in your house since you’ve been sick?”
The only way Wes was able to tell Eric was affected when it dawned on him was because he had spent so much time with the other man. He knew the subtleties, knew that Eric was beyond disappointed whenever he figured out-
“The kid,” Eric mumbled, locking his eyes on the ceiling because if he didn’t they would be on the floor.
Wes nodded and tried to stay focused. “Look, maybe that’s just a coincidence.”
The look Eric gave him said he wasn’t buying Wes’ story, not by a long shot, and the old walls began to pull back up.
“Doubtful,” he murmured.
Wes shook his head and immediately entered damage control mode. They needed to focus.
“First things first, we use your morpher to track down the Quantum Defender. Then we’ll start charging people, okay?”
Eric nodded to show he understood, but Wes could see his mind was elsewhere. Neither one of them could have known what life would be like as a public ranger, they couldn’t have known-
“We’ll get it back, alright?”
“Okay,” Eric murmured.
Alright, good, they had a plan.
Plans were always good.
So they had two tracks they could take. One was to figure out who the kid was and the other one was to use Eric’s morpher to track down the Quantum Defender. Both had an equal likelihood (to everyone but Eric; he insisted the kid was a long shot) to find whoever/whatever had taken the Quantum Defender.
By route of the kid…yeah, Eric wasn’t all that helpful. All they had was a name, an age range, and a very rough sketch-up (Wes unsure how much Eric wasn’t contributing). They were already searching through all the high school and home school kids that fit the requirements in Silver Hills and the surrounding area but so far they had come up with nothing. What Wes didn’t understand, and continued to not understand, was the kid’s motive for taking the gun. If he had taken the gun. He had to have known he would get caught right? What was the long-term goal? Was there one? Sure, the kid was a little spacy but…
No, no, Wes was going to go with his gut on this one (and Eric’s too, though the Quantum Ranger would never admit it) that the kid was harmless. There were no ill intentions. As unbelievable as it was, the kid and the gun being missing, that was a coincidence. Or if he had taken the gun, he probably didn’t mean to do any harm with it.
That didn’t mean they would stop looking for him though; if anything they needed to clear him (and maybe give some lectures about breaking into people’s homes), but Wes honestly doubted they would find the Quantum Defender on his person.
Which meant they had to go route two: track the gun, which suffice it to say…yeah, they were terrible at it. If two days wasted was any evidence.
Their first plan of attack had been to get a hold of Trip. If anyone could track down the Quantum Defender, it would be him. Getting someone to “pick up” on the other end of their time communicator had been difficult enough though; Time Force, it seemed, was having a bit of a crisis. Nothing that would concern them, but the other rangers were all out on missions, trying to clean up the mess. There would be no help from them.
So seeing as Wes had no idea how to track a piece of weaponry and Eric sure as hell didn’t know how to, they were sort of at a very depressing impasse with the universe vis a vis the Quantum Defender situation.
This was when Wes got the bright idea to call up the other reds.
Someone on some team had to have a ranger that specialized in morphers. Just because Wes and Eric couldn’t contact their tech didn’t mean there wasn’t another one out there. And missing weaponry was no laughing matter; they all knew what could happen if it fell into the wrong hands.
Wes started at the top of the list, with Tommy and Jason. Jason they couldn’t get a hold of, but luckily they got through to Tommy, and he had just the man in mind to help them.
Of course, he neglected to mention that the ranger he nominated just barely met those qualifications.
For standing in front of them at the entrance of Bio Labs was, lo and behold-
“Another kid?” Eric said, unable to hide his incredulity. “What’s he gonna do, tell us how they think?”
Wes elbowed him in the side and kept a smile plastered on his face. He didn’t care about age, as long as there were results and Tommy had been adamant there would be results.
“Hi there,” Wes said, trying to keep as relaxed as he could while simultaneously dealing with Eric. “I’m Wes.”
“And he’s Eric, and you’re from Time Force,” the kid replied, indescribability unimpressed by them, and Eric tensed up.
Great. Fantastic. Only good things could happen from here.
The kid gave them both a careful once over before nodding his head towards the building. “So one of you guys lost a weapon?”
“It was stolen,” Eric muttered, looking to the side.
The kid shrugged. “Whatever. I’m going to need your morpher and someplace to set up.”
Wes perked up.
Yes, something he could do.
“We can use my office,” he said, probably a little too enthusiastically. The other two gave him questioning looks before following him into the building, up to his office.
“What are you going to do anyway?” Eric asked, hesitating before Wes prodded him to make him hand over his morpher.
The kid didn’t notice or, more likely, didn’t care.
“Morphing energy,” the kid explained while setting up his laptop, “is very distinctive. And it got to a point where the first ranger teams thought that being able to track this energy would be…a useful asset to us, you could say. When they launched Terra Venture, the GSA deployed several communication satellites so the station could keep in contact with Earth. Later on, the Galaxy rangers adapted the satellites so that they could recognize energy from the Morphing Grid.” The kid glanced up from them as he began typing something into his laptop. “This new function was a ranger secret, and intended to help the Earth’s ranger teams during an emergency. It would also help keep them in contact with each other.”
Wes wasn’t all that surprised when Eric leaned forward to interrupt the kid. “If it’s a ranger secret then why the hell didn’t we know about it?”
The kid rolled his eyes. “It was for emergencies. Like now. Each set of morphers is created to fight off a specific enemy; it’s why we don’t have the same rangers fighting over and over again. Each ranger specialized in their morphers. Seeing as we’re not allowed to escalate a fight, we can’t just call up an army of retired rangers and form a posse okay?”
Which made sense, but it still didn’t sit well with Eric. “Fine, whatever.”
“Great,” the kid muttered, hooking Eric’s morpher up to his computer. “Look, it’s not personal; it’s just if this information falls into the wrong hands-”
“We get it,” Wes said, understanding tone. The less people that knew, the better.
That wouldn’t stop Eric from moping but…
“So how does it work?” Wes asked, trying to move things along.
The kid, like Eric, stubbornly hid his relief with the change of subject.
“With these satellites I’ll be able to locate all of the active morphers on Earth. Then I’ll use those as sort of…individual radars.” He sat back, fingers finally stilling on his keyboard. “Let me try to think of the best way to put this. Each morpher is connected to the morphing grid and each morpher is unique. Now your gun is connected to your morpher, so while it will have a much fainter signal, it should still match up to your morpher’s distinct signature.”
“So what, you’re just going to look for the two matching dots, is that it?” Eric asked, trying to downplay how impressed he was. Being that he was a jerk about it, Wes would say he succeeded, but the kid, again, didn’t seem all that fazed by him.
“Not really,” the kid replied. “Your weapon can’t give off a strong enough signal by itself. But the morphers, they all use the same energy which means…”
“They’re all connected, right?” Wes cut in, excited. “Can they…access each other?”
“Not really,” the kid said, shaking his head. “But they can recognize each other.”
“So you’re going to use the satellite to make them recognize each other?”
This time Eric didn’t bother trying to be incredulous. This was too cool.
“In essence,” the kid confirmed. “And doing that will sort of…lay down a net, if you will. Since the morphers are all spread out, whichever one is closest to your weapon will help us find it.”
“That,” Wes began, shaking his head slowly. “That is really cool.”
He shared a look with Eric and even though the other ranger didn’t say anything, he knew that he agreed.
“Psh,” the kid scoffed. “It is way past cool.”
And then Wes realized something.
“Hey uh, what’s your name?”
Which they probably should have asked like, you know, first.
The kid broke into his first smile, typing away happily.
“It’s Justin,” he said. “Justin Stewart. Gimme about thirty minutes and we can start looking for your ray gun.”