Complicating Complicated Things
The drive to Silver Hills had passed relatively fast, even with Cyber Cam cutting into their communication line (each of them wore an earpiece so they could talk inside their bike helmets; benefits of knowing a tech-wizard) to pepper their conversation with random factoids none of them would ever care about, or worse, dig out old children’s songs and imbed them into their brains. Dustin knew this was just the program’s way of acting out because there weren’t any holo-projectors in Silver Hills and Hunter had refused to carry one, so Cyber Cam couldn’t, to quote him, “Project his god-like presence to the unwashed populous so that they too may behold his glory.” Which, in Cyber Cam terms, was really just his way of saying he wanted in on the high-fives and fist bumps whenever they started getting thrown around. It was all just a part of the bromance.
Hunter had ultimately decided that indulging in cybernetic fist-bumps was not reason enough to make Blake carry the extra backpack.
Blake had been grateful for this. Cyber Cam had pouted. And now they were in an endless loop of “The wheels on the bus go round and round.” Not that Dustin particularly minded. He found the constant repetition reassuring in a way. How nice to know the wheels always went where he thought they should go. Always.
Hunter was of a differing opinion.
“I’m. About. To kill him,” the blond grumbled over the off-pitch voice of Cyber Cam.
“Dude,” Dustin said, patting Hunter’s side as best he could without risking bike fallings-off. “He’ll stop eventually. Besides, you can’t kill him; there’s no body to kill.”
“That sounds like a challenge,” Blake noted tiredly. Looked like someone had given up on plan ‘meditate the evil away’.
Dustin considered this, then altered his argument. “Do you guys really want to make Cam that mad? That’s like, an act of war you can never take back.” And then, because he knew they were both contemplating it anyway because making Cam mad amounted to a weekend at Disneyland with these two, he added, “It would be like punching me in the face.” He paused for dramatic effect, Cyber Cam even lowering the volume of his wails so he could be heard. “And do you really want to punch me in the face? For no. Good. Reason?”
They were all quiet, even Cyber Cam for a second before he remembered what he was supposed to be doing, and the other two eventually sighed. Because Dustin was Cam’s favorite and he knew it and they knew it and one did not mess with Cam’s favorite without fear of swift and very efficient retribution. And considering the fact they both lived with Cam…
Dustin was pretty sure he got his point across.
Cyber Cam would live.
“Fine,” Hunter sighed, Cyber Cam cheering before going back to cyber-singing, much to the collective dismay of the three motocross riders.
“Is there any way we can shut him up?” Blake asked, sounding close to the end of his rope, and Dustin thought about it.
He wasn’t very good at computers (as in he-plus-computers usually ended up with someone on fire and, more often than not, it was him) but he did listen to Cam whenever he talked about their morphers or Cyber Cam or-
“Oh hey,” Dustin said, light bulb going off in his brain. “Isn’t there a blocker on our morphers? Like, to jam up communications or whatever in case they’re like-”
“Compromised!” Hunter exclaimed, liking where this idea was going. “Yeah, we can just-”
“Dudes,” Cyber Cam said, finally stopping his song. “That’s only for emergencies. If it’s really that bad I’ll just stop-”
“You had your chance,” Blake murmured and just like that, ‘poof’, the navy ranger was offline.
“Come on guys-” Cyber Cam was saying, but Hunter just shrugged and hit the emergency button, Dustin following in suit.
And just like that, blessed, blessed silence rained down upon them, ruling the night with kind and forgiving hands. Yes, Dustin’s eardrums could finally rest in peace. It sucked that they wouldn’t be able to talk to Cam but-
Well, whatever worked.
It wasn’t like this was going to take that long anyway.
“So how exactly did it all go down?” Hunter asked, he and Blake pushing their bikes along while Dustin tried to remember where his vehicle was. There was a tree that had its trunk split in like three places, and then a fallen log and then-
Dustin scrunched his nose, scanning the forest carefully. “How did what-?”
As though expecting his response (okay, he totally had; Dustin could admit he was predictable), Hunter continued, “Getting the Quantum Defender.”
“Oh,” Dustin said, pausing to get a closer look at the pile of rocks…No, not his. It was probably further in. “Well, first I drove to the address Cyber Cam gave me.”
“Right,” Hunter said, nodding to show he understood. Not that Dustin would have thought he would misunderstand but like, Hunter gave the best physical cues and they made Dustin really happy for the times he didn’t know what to think. Yeah, social stuff was not his strong point.
“What was he like?” Blake cut in, impatient, and Hunter gave him a mean look.
See, Hunter knew the protocol. Let Dustin tell the story and details will come in time.
Blake shrugged, unapologetic, and Dustin went ahead and answered him anyway. “He was sick. So like, grumpy.” Dustin scratched the side of his head. “Actually, he reminded me of you, Hunter. Like, a whole lot. Maybe he’s your long lost cousin or something.”
And so they wouldn’t get off on that particular tangent (because they would, and then they’d formulate theories, and then they’d research them and then it would be three days later and Cam would be frowning down at them for falling asleep on his floor and dirtying his lab up with take out containers, not caring if it was “For Science!”), Blake went ahead and focused on the first half of his response.
“He was sick?”
Apparently this was very befuddling to the two Bradley brothers.
Dustin waved off their concerns. “Yeah, like with the flu or something. Anyway he was sick and Cyber Cam said that doom-pot man wasn’t doing anything so I made him soup and helped him get better and then I got the dinosaur gun.”
“Quantum Defender,” Hunter corrected automatically, though his mind was somewhere else. Serious thinking-cap going on there. “So what, he answered the door and you said, ‘Hi, I’m a Power Ranger, let me nurse you back to health and by the way, I totally need to borrow your specialized weapon. Don’t worry, I’m legit’.” Hunter looked at Dustin, eyes narrowed. “Is that what happened?”
Psf, Hunter was just jealous that Dustin could actually pull something like that off. He had that effect on people. Yep, when it mattered most he could throw off his social awkwardness and get the job done because he was a super hero and you never saw Batman throwing in the towel just because he needed to give Robin a pep talk or whatever.
…He wasn’t exactly sure if that analogy worked.
“Actually,” Dustin said, shaking his head. “I never got him to answer the door; he was too sick.”
Dustin was about five feet away before he realized that Blake and Hunter had stopped following him. They were frozen still, attempting to hide some seriously concerned faces. Well wasn’t that nice of them, all worried about new-friend Eric.
They were such fanboys.
“Dustin,” Hunter began slowly, eyes locked on the yellow ranger’s. “How exactly did you get in the house?”
Oh, was that what they were worried about?
“Dudes,” Dustin said, crossing his arms defensively. “I am not that bad at sneaking. I used the second story window and no, I didn’t break anything. Thanks.” He turned away and started walking again, sure he was going in the right direction. “I can open a simple window without doing any damage now. I’ve been practicing.”
In fact, he and Cyber Cam sometimes had contests to see who could do it best (so far the only time Dustin had managed to win involved breaking into the mobile command center, but he was cool with that because it supported the fact that he totally ruled all vehicles).
It took him a few more minutes before he realized they still weren’t following him, so with a sigh Dustin turned back around and motioned at them impatiently. They had stuff to do.
“Guys,” Dustin totally didn’t whine. Because he wasn’t a whiner.
“Dustin,” Hunter said, and the yellow ranger was getting really sick of that special tone he was using. Like Dustin was acting extra slow and he should know things they should know and-
Hunter continued, “Did he know you broke into his house?”
“Don’t think so,” Dustin replied. Eric had seemed pretty chill about the whole thing. Dustin doubted he would have let a home-invader nurse him back to health except-
“Holy crap,” Dustin said, it finally dawning on him. “He couldn’t fight back! Dudes,” he said, looking back and forth between Hunter and Blake frantically. “I like, forced him to get better! He couldn’t do anything about it! He even told me-” Dustin launched forward and grabbed the front of Hunter’s shirt. “He even told me to get out and then he threw a box of tissues at me and I’m a bad person, but I don’t want to be a bad person! He was sick and alone and I didn’t want to leave him there, I didn’t-”
The world went a little wonky after that because Hunter grabbed Dustin’s shoulders and shook him, hard, which gave the blond teen a chance to talk while Dustin tried to reorient up with down and all that.
“First of all, calm down. You need to focus,” Hunter ordered, staring Dustin in the eye. Quite possibly, Dustin wasn’t a hundred percent, the world was still shaky. “Now, was…Eric like that the entire time? Did he uh…try to get away?”
“Oh God,” Blake sighed, running a hand across his face and Hunter shot him a dirty look. Blake paid him no heed. “Hostage, Hunter-”
“Shut it,” Hunter barked and Dustin’s heart leapt up to his throat because hostaging? He was a hostage-taker of sick people and now he was going to go to jail because he broke into someone’s house and made them soup and he was a very, very bad person and not at all a super hero and someone better teach Cyber Cam how to use his morpher because he sure as heck-
“Dustin,” Hunter yelled, shaking the brunette again. The yellow ranger blinked, trying to man up and hide his super depressed sad eyes and not at all succeeding by the look on Hunter’s face.
“Answer the question,” Hunter tried again, once Dustin was a little calmer.
The yellow ranger tried to look back, tried to think…
“I dunno,” he murmured, causing both of the thunder rangers to give exasperated sighs. “Look I’m sorry I just- maybe he gave up because I took his phone, or something. But no, he didn’t fight me. It wasn’t like I was hurting him I just-” He shook his head, feeling so incredibly stupid. “Gave him Gatorade and I cleaned and I made him soup and helped him get around and he seemed cool and the guy on the other end of the phone-”
“What guy?” Blake interrupted, sharing an unreadable look with Hunter.
Dustin shrugged. “I don’t know, just, some guy who called to check up on Eric and he seemed cool and he told me to keep doing a good job and not to worry about-”
“What was his name?” Hunter tried, which was stupid because apparently everything Dustin had ever thought about himself was wrong so how would he know about what happened to people he didn’t know and-
“I don’t know. He didn’t say his name, I didn’t say my name. I guess he could have been Wes-”
And just like that Blake’s whole demeanor changed from super concerned/sad/upset to omg-must-fanboy-now. “You know Wes?”
And Wes was…? Oh, he was the other guy. The red one.
“Maybe?” Dustin shrugged his shoulders. “Like, Eric said that Wes must have sent me and I didn’t say no because he was being a grumpy-pants and the phone guy could have been Wes and he did tell me to keep going so…” Dustin looked back and forth between the two brothers. “Am I still a bad person now?”
He would very much like to not be that right now. It was really doing a number on his psyche.
If the immediate assault of surround-sound laughter was any indication, he probably wasn’t a bad guy.
“Hot damn,” Blake whispered, manic smile breaking onto his face as he grabbed his brother’s shoulder. “I can’t believe…I mean, if anyone would be lucky it would be Dustin but…”
“You,” Hunter laughed, pulling Dustin into a one-armed hug. “I can’t believe your luck.”
“So I’m not bad?” Dustin mumbled as their celebration turned into an impromptu group hug.
Dustin was a fan of group hugs, he really wanted to stop worrying so he could sit back and enjoy the moment. Hunter didn’t participate in group hugs all that often.
“Nope,” Blake replied, more cheerful Dustin had ever seen him. “You are just one lucky son of a gun.”
“Okay, okay,” Hunter began again, when the relieved laughs died down and they all had a chance to breathe. “Now we’ve got something we can work with. Dustin…” He turned towards the yellow ranger. “I’m assuming he didn’t know you took the gun?”
“He was asleep,” Dustin confirmed.
Hunter smiled so he figured that was the way right answer and he smiled too. This was much better. Yay for not being an evil, hostage-taking burglar!
Because that was not a happy title to have.
“Fantastic,” Hunter said, rubbing his hands together. Dustin almost wished they still had Cyber Cam around to record that. Hunter almost never used the word ‘fantastic’ non-sarcastically. Said it gave him hives.
Hunter continued, “We’ll just…sneak the gun back into his house, somewhere where it could have been believably misplaced, and then we’ll leave and never come back.”
“Can’t we just explain we’re power rangers?”
They stopped and contemplated Blake’s suggestion, Hunter turning towards Dustin as he fully evolved into leader mode. “Did you happen to mention…?”
“No,” Dustin replied bashfully. Okay, mission break-the-doom-pot hadn’t been a total success. This was why they had post-mission debriefs, so they could cover these kinds of mistakes so they wouldn’t happen again.
In Dustin’s defense, out-of-team ambassadoring hadn’t been in the job description when it came to saving the Earth so…not totally his fault.
“Alright,” Hunter said, looking off into the distance as his mind began churning up a plan. “Don’t worry about it. First things first, we find your bike. After that we’ll track down this Eric guy. You-” This was aimed at Dustin. “-are staying incognito on the off hand chance there’s a warrant out for you or something.” Hunter placed a comforting hand on Dustin’s shoulder as the brown-haired teen paled at the thought; warrants, he could have warrants… “Don’t worry about it, happens to the best of us-”
Blake was incredulous to this. “The best of us get warrants?”
Hunter shot him an irritated look and the younger brother snapped his mouth shut, looking off to the side innocently to avoid further wrath.
“Look,” Hunter said. “We find the bike, we go to town, we return the Quantum Defender. There is no reason for this to get any more complicated than it already is. Got it?”
If there were any two people who were more gettable than Dustin and Blake were at that very moment, Dustin would like to meet them. Because they would have to be mystical forest people who only existed on this plane of reality every other Tuesday that was how inconceivable the idea of more-gettable people existing was.
“Got it,” Dustin and Blake replied, just so that Hunter could hear the affirmative.
Dustin figured it was the least he could do.
“I think we might have a bit of a problem here.”
The kid hadn’t spoken much since he had set up the uh…morpher net, Wes was going to go with. He had pretty much ignored Wes and Eric after he decided he was done with explanations. Which was fine, whatever worked, except Eric refused to leave so Wes couldn’t leave purely based on the other two’s past interactions (someone would probably end up strangled, or shot, and Wes had a feeling it would be Eric) so the two co-leaders inevitably ended up playing about eighteen games too many of “Go Fish”.
Wes could tell Eric was miffed by this. He could tell Eric would rather be hovering over Justin’s shoulder and watching the tech work on things he could never hope to understand, and probably criticize the work he didn’t understand, because it was just one of those days. But Wes (for reasons he was slowly beginning to not care about) couldn’t let that happen because it could lead to the strangling and the shooting and it turned out he was really bad at losing at “Go Fish”. And he was trying very hard. He had given up all pretense of winning the moment he had sat down. He had asked for cards that were not in his hand, he had played the dumb-blond shtick and asked for the same card like, three times, and as it turned out, that was a pretty fool-proof way to beat Eric. It was actually getting depressing. Wes had switched to actually playing to win about half-way through. Turned out that only sped up the process of Eric’s losing. He had suggested switching to another game about four times, but no, Eric’s honor had been offended. He would not stop until it had been avenged.
On the bright side, Eric was now adequately occupied. At least, sort of; he still leapt at the chance of news on his missing weapon. Even if it was bad news, at least it was something.
And now, because Eric loved actions movies and formulas and found that certain clichés were comforting, the Quantum ranger would say-
“What kind of problem?”
And the world would keep turning.
Wes calmly walked to Justin’s other side, studying the monitor while Eric’s face hovered inches away from the screen, studying it with absolute fascination. Wes pulled him back before Justin could (and definitely would) comment on it. Apparently this problem, whatever it was, was enough of a distraction to keep Justin from noticing Eric’s actions.
The kid typed away at his keyboard irritably, then motioned to the screen, annoyance in his voice. “Your weapon’s energy signature isn’t showing up.”
Wait but Wes thought-
Eric cut to the chase before he did. “What the hell is that supposed to mean?”
That was not a good tone; it was a beyond-irritated tone that he used to mask some heavy nerves. Losing…well, the Quantum Defender getting stolen was bad enough and having to resort to outside help was bad too, but complications-
It would probably be best if Wes took over the question-asking from here.
Justin shrugged, studying the screen. “It means…look, there’s some kind of disturbance. Something’s messing with the satellite readings okay?”
Wes shared a look with Eric. “Can they do that? Whoever…they are?”
Justin spared him a quick look before typing in…something. “It’s possible,” he said frowning, whatever had appeared on the screen apparently unsatisfactory. “It’s not…Originally I was looking for your weapon’s energy signature which would be amplified through the closest active morpher, right?”
Wes remembered having these kinds of conversations with Trip. Even if he had no clue he knew how to answer.
Justin took the prompt, tapping a point on the screen impatiently. “Well instead of a beacon I’m getting the opposite.”
Which would be…what exactly?
Eric figured it out before Wes did.
“How the hell would you know it’s the opposite?” he asked, knuckles tensing around the edge of the desk. “Wouldn’t it just be nothing? How do you know that’s special?”
He had a point. But Wes figured Justin already knew that so…
The kid glared at Eric. “I didn’t; that’s what I’ve been working on for the past two hours.” He turned back to the screen and frowned, typing up a new set of…equations, maybe. “When I didn’t pick up anything on the initial look, I dug deeper, trying to figure out what could be wrong. I ended up at the satellite-”
“Looking at the net?” Wes couldn’t help cutting in. He knew the kid had a much more complicated name but the blond’s head was starting to hurt so-
Justin gave him a patient look but didn’t correct him. “Yes. And it’s…” He tilted his head to the side, eyes squinted in thought. “Think of it like dumping paint onto a canvas. If there’s something blocking a portion of the canvas, then that area remains dry.”
Wes shared a look with Eric, who was also trying, in vain, not to feel like a dumb jock. “You’ve lost us.”
It appeared that Justin was expecting this.
The kid sighed and motioned to the screen where he pulled up a helpful visual aid. It looked like a map of California, littered with small glowing points of differing colors.
The morphers, Wes noted.
“Think of it this way,” Justin began, typing in a keyboard command. As prompted, all the glowing dots started reaching out towards each other; tiny, ethereal lines interconnecting all of them.
Justin pointed at the screen. “We’re laying out a net with the morphers. Now if something is…disrupting the morphers from accessing each other, then we have a hole in the net.” He pointed to a section of the screen Wes hadn’t noticed before, close to Silver Hills. It was a blank space, no lines passing through or little dots which Wes supposed wasn’t all that weird, California was really big, but-
Wes leaned closer to the screen. True, there weren’t any lines passing through Justin’s specified area, but it looked like-
It looked like they were trying to but couldn’t, like something was repelling them.
“That hole,” Justin explained, tapping the specified area. “That dead space is where your weapon is right now except something’s blocking the signal.” He sighed and rubbed the side of his head, giving Wes a tired look. “Without a complete net, this thing just got a whole lot more difficult to find.”
But how could that happen? How could something block the-
“Wait a minute,” Wes began, not liking where this was going. “Just hold on here. If the net’s comprised of all the active morphers wouldn’t that mean that some of the morphers are being blocked?” That’s the only way he could think to explain it. “If that’s the case, couldn’t we just like, contact all the active rangers and see which ones are missing. If there are rangers in trouble-”
Eric flexed his hand slowly, quietly letting out a breath of air to calm himself. “This mess just keeps getting bigger and bigger.”
It shouldn’t be surprising. This was bigger than just some fan-kid breaking into Eric’s house. This was missing weapons and missing rangers and-
Justin shook his head at Eric’s antics. “Mope all you want but Wes has a point. There could be a ranger that needs our help.”
“But how would…” Wes tried to think of the best way to phrase it. “Would our enemies know to block the signals? What would it…?”
Justin nodded thoughtfully; yes, it was a good question. “A morpher from the same team would still be able to track it down, no satellite necessary. An enemy wouldn’t achieve anything by blocking off rangers.”
So the gun thing could still be coincidence, and the satellite wasn’t compromised, but if it was in the dead-zone…
Ugh, this was making his head hurt. Wes looked at Justin. “So what do we do? Is there some way you can…I don’t know…”
The kid stared at him with determined eyes, hands anxious on the keyboard. “I can narrow down the area where the hole is.”
Good, at this point it was sort of…well, large.
Justin studied the screen. “After that we could…if we drew in some active rangers closer to that area then we might be able to find the Quantum Defender, and maybe the blocked off rangers.”
Yeah, Wes could practically see Eric’s day going down the toilet.
The blond smiled at his partner. “Looks like we get to call the band back together.”
Justin smirked as though he knew (and he probably did) how much Eric loathed the thought. “And then some."
The Quantum ranger glared at Wes as though he were the source of all his misery. Which, for the record, he wasn’t.
Just for most of it.
“Great.” Eric mumbled, resisting the urge to put his head in his hands. “Just great.”
Wes couldn’t help clapping Eric’s arm in fake enthusiasm, smiling widely at the glare he received in return. “Don’t worry about it Eric, it’ll be fun.”
And besides, he would have at least a day of peace before the other rangers started showing up. Wes would call Leo first, since he had the farthest to travel (and Eric might just hate him the most).
As though sensing his thoughts, Eric gave up all pretense and lowered his head into his hands, massaging the sides of his head.
“I freakin’ hate reunions,” he grumbled.
Don’t worry, Wes thought, the feeling is completely mutual.