We Can't Stop Here, It's Q-Rex Country
“So,” Hunter began, gasping in between the pointed throbs his chest seemed so insistent on sharing. “Apparently my first reaction when dealing with a giant dinosaur robot that has no other intents than doing me bodily harm, is to make a very detailed list of the people I want to kick in the face. I’m not sure what this says about me as a person.”
“Cam would say you have violent tendencies,” Dustin yelled helpfully in response, giving Hunter an innocent, wide-eyed look over his shoulder before he focused on running again. “But I just think you’re having a bad day.”
Oh, there Blake was. It looked like he was doubling back because of how much farther ahead he had gotten.
“So is Cam first on the list?” the younger Bradley brother asked. “Or is it the Q-Rex? Are we pretending Q-Rex is a person?”
“No,” Hunter spat, momentarily fighting for air as he jarred his foot against a tree branch, knocking the wind out of him. It was not lost on him that the lead they had established earlier was slowly but surely diminishing and he knew it was because of him. The other two rangers hadn’t commented on it, out of stubbornness or denial of reality or for whatever reasons but eventually Hunter was going to have to tell them to leave him behind and Blake would vehemently refuse and Dustin would simply be more determined to stick to the blond’s side and then they would all get murdered or at the very least slightly maimed by a gigantic raging dinosaur.
He wished he had the breath to explain just how stupid that choice would be. He wished he could explain that if they kept running there was a good chance the Q-Rex wouldn’t give him a second thought anyway since he didn’t have the gun. He would like to say that hey- their morphers always came back at the last minute anyway, why not go ahead and participate in that nerve-wracking exercise? Again. It wasn’t like they didn’t do it all the time.
But really- Hunter had misplaced priorities and had wasted most of his breath on complaining, so, instead of wasting even more energy trying to convince the other two to leave him behind, he should figure out a plan that kept them buddied-up for-evah.
“Options people,” he huffed, bracing a hand against his ribs because seriously- pain; inadvertent stopping was going to happen sooner rather than later.
“Morphing?” Dustin offered, but they all knew that wasn’t going to happen. They had taken too hard a hit earlier; it would take way longer than a few minutes for their morphers to be ready for another round of battle.
“I could try shorting it out,” Blake suggested. “Circle off to the side and hit it with as big a lightning bolt as I can manage. Maybe that would put it out of commission for a little bit.”
“Forget it.” Hunter couldn’t let that happen. If anyone was staying behind to deal with the psychotic tin-can it was going to be him, definitely not Blake.
Dustin agreed with this sentiment. At least, the first part. “Dude we’re not leaving you alone and if that thing’s anything like our zords, it will be able to handle your unmorphed lightning with like, no troubles. No offense.”
“None taken.” By his dry tone Blake thought differently, but he moved on. “Damn, if Marah and Kapri showed up right now maybe this thing would focus on them seeing as like, they’re actual bad guys.”
“Do you think it can sense that?” Dustin asked.
“Psh,” Blake scoffed. “If it saw their hair, I don’t think it would really matter.”
“Did you just-” Hunter had to stop, you know, for breathing, but it added to his mockery. “You did not make a hair joke when we could all possibly die? That’s not- please, we deserve better than that.”
Blake streaked past his peripheral, must have doubled back to check their distance, face snarky as he flipped to the front. “Got anything better from the peanut gallery, oh wise and silver-tongued wizard?”
“Yeah,” Hunter coughed, smile breaking across his face despite, you know, imminent doom. “How about their stupidity would be so compelling he would have to destroy them?”
“How is that better?” Blake asked, attempting to clear a path for Hunter without being obvious about it.
Now that the blond looked at it, his brother and Dustin must be taking turns, weaving out in front of the lagging crimson ranger to make his escape as stress-free as possible.
Part of Hunter wanted to call a time-out and hug them for it. The other part added them to the ‘to-be-face-kicked’ list.
Instead of doing either, Hunter pushed the emotions down and focused on breathing, waving a hand at his brother. “Mine doesn’t involve hair fashion, which implies you care about hair fashion-”
Blake frowned. “You don’t have to care about-”
“I think you do.”
Because you did.
The two Bradley’s gave Dustin their attention, putting a halt to their habitual bickering so the yellow ranger could state his case. “If Marah and Kapri are still around they would be looking for us so…like, shouldn’t we just make it really easy to find us?”
“Is the dinosaur rampage not doing it for them?” Hunter asked, even though he shouldn’t, because he was a glutton for punishment like that. “Because I’ve got to say that is just an insult to the Q-Rex-” and Hunter had to cut himself off. Really, he should rearrange his priorities but sarcasm was his life force; he needed it or he would go postal damn it.
Dustin ignored him, flipping onto another branch. “What’s another way to track a ninja?”
“Ninja energy, I guess,” Blake replied, Dustin’s plan finally dawning on him.
“Less talky,” Hunter forced out, no longer able to be subtle about the rib clutching. “More do-y.”
He didn’t know what they must have looked like and honestly, he didn’t care. But if Hunter ever did, it must have been a sight: three teenagers hurling themselves through the trees while a mammoth of a dinosaur zord chased them down, one of them firing off sporadic lighting bolts into the heavens while another made the earth itself crumble beneath the Q-Rex’s feet, as much as they could without affecting the trees around them.
Hunter could only imagine that Marah and Kapri’s entrance added to the calamity, along with the following onslaught of Kelzaks and Choobo and gorilla/airplanes.
The good news was that their plan was a stunning success; the Q-Rex was definitely more interested in the newest swarm of locusts than it was with the possibly/definitely/innocent-until-guilty Quantum Defender thieves.
The bad news was that the entirety of hell burst out of the ground and consumed everything because, holy crap, Hunter did not know what was going on.
Ninja training kicked in way before he comprehended the presence of his and Blake’s idols; Time Force Red and the Quantum Ranger riding in on the TF Eagle, weapons a’blazing and throwing themselves into the fight with absolutely no hesitation.
The first thing that crossed Hunter’s mind was that it figured Eric Meyers would be aware of his zord running amuck. That was rangering 101. His second thought was that they should probably stay to help clean up the mess, seeing as it was their bad guys that were causing the trouble anyway. The third thing was a mild victory at Kapri getting kicked in the face (number two checked off the list; yes, Cam had been first, shut up), and the fourth thing was the stunning realization that Dustin and Blake had usurped his authority when he wasn’t looking and had decided that a legitimate, undetected, tactile retreat and regroup was their only priority at the moment.
The fifth thing Hunter realized was that he honestly had no complaints about this decision; he felt like he was about to pass out anyway, and it wasn’t like Marah and Kapri would be all that hard to beat.
And with the Q-Rex on their side…
Yeah, he had no worries for Wes Collins and Eric Meyers.
“Someone’s trying to hack into Ninja Ops’ network,” was the greeting Shane got upon his arrival into the Ops’ main room, Cam’s fingers moving rapidly over his keyboard as he stared down the main console, daring it to allow this most grievous offense to continue.
“Okay wait,” Shane started, holding up a placating hand that was completely lost on the green ranger. “Run that by me again.”
“It’s simple,” Cam murmured, tense shoulders giving away his aggravation. “There’s an attempted breach. I’m trying to stop the breach. This has been going on for quite a while now.”
Under normal circumstances Shane wouldn’t have been worried because in all honestly, he had the most gifted tech guy around, no question, but by Cam’s clipped tone and the fact he had actually called the team to Ninja Ops…
It was safe to say Shane had some concerns.
Tori entered just in time for Cam’s explanation and moved to stand beside Shane, looking over Cam’s shoulder worriedly. “Can that even happen? I thought Lothor couldn’t-”
“He can’t,” the green ranger snapped, then stilled, taking in a slow breath before throwing Tori an apologetic look. “The entire…the Ninja Ops network is comprised of all my computers, the morphers, the mobile command center, the zords, and my entire system of cameras, sensors, and holo-projectors that are spread throughout Blue Bay Harbor. The receivers for everything are here. It’s a local network, if someone was trying to backtrack from a camera or sensor Cyber Cam would just cut them off; the only way they could actually attempt a breach is if they were actually in Ninja Ops. At least, hypothetically.”
Shane turned and gave the room a thorough once over, fighting stance ready. He did not like the sound of that. “So should we-”
“That’s just the problem,” Cam continued like he hadn’t heard him. “The hacker is definitely outside of Ninja Ops.”
“Dude, by the looks of it he could be out of the city,” Cyber Cam added, ever the helpful one.
Cam sighed. “I don’t know where it’s coming from. The only definite trail Cyber Cam and I have managed to pick up is from the zords and our morphers and I don’t know how anyone could have access to…” Cam trailed off then shook his head, returning his focus to the screen in front of him. “The Morphing Grid. Or something that can track it or channel it or-”
“Like another ranger team?” Tori asked, hands folded in front of her mouth as she narrowed her eyes thoughtfully.
“It’s a possibility,” Cam replied. “But I would rather be certain before allowing them access.”
“Right,” Shane nodded. “Do whatever’s necessary.” He turned his attention to Tori. “Call the others, we should probably-”
“They’re out of town.”
It took Shane a couple of seconds to register what Cam had said, having assumed the tech had blocked them out to continue working.
Shane was taken off guard by his interruption. Thankfully, Tori was not.
“Excuse me?” she asked in a tone that was less questioning and more ‘why-the-hell-didn’t-you-mention-that-sooner’.
Because he was otherwise occupied, Cam did not pick up on this tone, which was probably a blessing for all of them. “They went to return the weapon Dustin borrowed from the ‘Doom-pot’ fiasco. After being struck with an impulse for rash behavior, Hunter had them activate the un-tested morpher blockers, which would make that-” and without looking over his shoulder he pointed to Tori, who already had her morpher half-raised to her mouth. “Pointless.”
Which was bad and Shane could tell Cam was highly displeased with this action, but he couldn’t help but wonder…
“Do you think that has anything to do with the attempted breach?”
Cam actually stopped his time, fingers hovering over the keyboard as he turned and gave Shane his undivided attention, Cyber Cam keeping the work up in the background.
The green ranger thought about this. “They were off-line for about two hours before the first attempt began.”
“What?” Tori started up, arms folding across her chest. “Do you think someone’s out there…monitoring us? Saw the morphers go off line and came looking to see if we were okay?”
“Or dead,” Cam murmured and damn, Shane did not like either option.
“The status quo changed,” he said, standing resolute as they sent him questioning looks. “We always have six, three go missing and suddenly someone’s trying to make contact with us.” He stared at the other two seriously, hating how this was expanding past their small world in Ninja Ops, where it was safe. But he had a job to do, so he had to keep going. “Either they’re worried for our safety, or they’re worried that they can’t keep tabs on us anymore.”
Cam shrugged his shoulders, too casual an action for him; it was forced for their benefit. “Cyber Cam and I will continue trying to backtrack the attempts.”
“Good,” Shane said, nodding. “In the meantime we use our blockers too.” He locked eyes with Tori, who nodded knowingly. “Really give them something to worry about.”
“What about the others?” Tori was fidgeting with the end of her pony tail; she didn’t like that Blake was so far out of her reach and felt unsettled by it, something that Shane could only sympathize with.
His stupid boyfriend was probably the cause of all this mess anyway.
Shane pulled out his phone and punched in speed dial two, Dustin’s picture flashing across the screen as he waited for the line to pick up.
If things were fine, Dustin would answer.
If things had gone down the toilet (as Shane so feared they had), his loving boyfriend Hunter would be more than willing to dish out some unrelenting fury.
If Blake answered…
Shane honestly didn’t want to think about that. He didn’t.
That meant the other two were down.
All Hunter had to say was thank God for abandoned warehouses being a dime a dozen. Sure, it didn’t do anything to boost the city’s economy or provide more jobs for the unemployed or whatever, but damn did they make good hiding spots. Solid roof over your head, most of them were structurally sound and add in an employee lounge with a couple of couches and broken down vending machines and you had yourself the perfect little getaway for whenever your back got pushed against the wall.
This particular employee lounge had enough couch cushions to go around, there were even some leftover coats and coveralls to act as blankets to their little nest in the far corner; the doors and that one window easily in sight. They made do with it; the other two scrounging what supplies they could while Hunter tried to recoup against the wall, Dustin’s cell phone in hand for the inevitable call he had to make.
It was out of sheer stubbornness he had yet to contact Shane. With a cell phone. Because the first question out of Shane’s mouth would be something along the lines of “Why didn’t you use your morpher?” which would eventually devolve into “Don’t use untested crap Hunter, you’re giving me a heart attack and I don’t deserve a heart attack Hunter” and then he’d probably hand the phone off to Tori who would make Hunter wish he had just manned up and dealt with Cyber Cam’s caterwauling instead of going the route of instant gratification because Tori gave exactly no damns about him or his feelings whenever he initiated a particularly stupid stunt that upset Shane. The red ranger himself wouldn’t be too pissed because he at the very least got some physical compensation (*wink* *wink*) to put up with Hunter’s…Hunterness.
Tori did not. Tori did not and Tori would start unleashing hells the likes of which only he and Cam ever got to experience because apparently they were the two most emotionally incompetent people ever.
So Hunter had a phone call to make, he just…Not yet.
He could buy himself a few more minutes right?
The phone rang in his hands.
Well, the best defense was a ridiculous offense so-
Hunter snapped the phone open and jammed it against his ear, taking a deep breath in an attempt to conceal, or at least, minimize the effects of his rib injury. “Tell Cam his stupid signal blocker works. It just doesn’t, you know, turn off.”
Cam’s voice came through the other end of the line at a distance - they must be on speaker - but there was no hiding the annoyance in his tone, “I told you it was still in testing phases-”
“Your testing sucks!” Hunter yelled and immediately regretted it, only he didn’t, because it was Cam and throwing disdain at Cam was his life’s foremost prerogative, though there was probably something to the fact he would do this crap at his own expense, something Tori and Shane would make frowny faces at him for, but whatever.
“…and not to be used on frivolous things like drowning out Cyber Cam,” Cam said right over him, because he was a dick like that, in that eerily calm/pissed tone he had especially reserved for Hunter. Not that this was all actually Hunter-inspired hate. There was also some making-me-worry-over-Dustin hate going down there.
Hunter inhaled slowly, probably sounding like he was making an attempt to cool-down or recharge or whatever when his ribs were really not having it. “Well maybe if your tech-crap actually worked-”
Cam scoffed, “I love how blatant misuse of equipment is my fault-”
Shane should have really just given the phone to Cam.
Hunter grit his teeth, feeling his left eye give a resolved twitch. “It should be able to TURN OFF-”
Cam’s typing became audible and Hunter knew he hit a sore spot. Score. Cam was pissed.
“What part of ‘prototype’ does your quasi-developed brain not comprehend-”
“The part that understands the basic function of most items is 1) turn on, quickly followed by 2-”
“Enough,” Shane ordered, tone sharp and making an impressive entrance with leader-voice fully engaged. He let them throw their barbs out, now it was time to get back on track.
“We’ll talk about this later,” the voice continued and Hunter almost wanted to cry a little bit.
Hunter wished that stupid leader voice was on this side of the phone. Really, if he had known this simple trip was going to go to hell he would have made Shane switch places with him. Shane would have handled this the correct way.
Sometimes Hunter wondered how he had kept Blake and himself alive all those years. He honestly wasn’t seeing it now.
Hunter glared at Dustin’s phone (for Cam, again, not Shane. Shane was cool), switching it to speaker mode as Blake and Dustin reentered the lounge, offerings of fast food laden in their hands. Hunter motioned for them to come over and set the phone down on his lap, leaning against the wall with a sigh, one hand braced against his ribs while the other massaged the side of his head.
On the other end of the line he could hear Shane sigh and compose himself, tone calm when he continued. “Hunter, I need a status report.”
Hunter would like, would desperately like, to be honest and frank and not-jerkface Hunter, but he had two rangers looking to him for leadership and concern and if he broke, if he…He wasn’t afraid to show weakness. It wasn’t that. They just needed all the freakin’ pep they could get their hands on, which did not include depressed mutterings and admitting that bad shit had indeed gone down, so instead of laying it all out on the table Hunter kept his tone peeved and sarcastic, clutching onto that to keep the gasping out of his tone, to keep Dustin and Blake seeing the jovial side of things and, most of all, to keep Shane from getting more upset and worried than he already was.
It was times like these that made those years of honing his wit as a defense mechanism all the more useful.
“Status shitty captain,” he muttered. “We’ve got Marah, Kapri, a boatload of Kelzaks, an airplane/gorilla and a rather upset and not-so-surprisingly territorial Q-Rex hot on our asses.” He paused to catch his breath, flicking the side of Dustin’s head when the yellow ranger opened his mouth to make some concerned comment. “And also Choobo, but no one cares about Choobo.”
Cam, ever one for efficiency, sorted through all the excess stuff and cut to the heart of the matter. “How the hell did you manage-”
“Not speaking to you,” Hunter muttered, Dustin giving him a hurt look on Cam’s behalf and Hunter waved him off. “Nope, no, this is not happening. Point is, we’re having a little trouble on the gun-return front.”
“Has there been anything suspicious?” Shane asked and…that concern? Yeah, that didn’t need to be increased at all.
Hunter outsourced his incredulous snort to Blake, leaning his shoulder against his younger brother’s as they shared a knowing look.
He kept his tone sarcastic. “Did you listen to my list?” he said. “It was a great list; I had to think of just the right order to present it to you because hot damn, that list deserved some-”
“Anything else?” Shane asked, no suspicion which was weird, but then there was Hunter suspicion because-
“…no, not really,” Hunter said, eyebrows knitting in concern. “Why?”
And no, he didn’t imagine Shane’s drawn out pause on the other end of the line because Blake and Dustin leaned closer to the phone too, as though their proximity would make a damn difference. When Shane started talking again it was like he was trying to find the right words to say, and dread washed over Hunter. He would hate it, loathed the idea of Shane and the other’s falling under attack while he was stuck in stupid Silver Hills with a couple of bruised (cracked) ribs.
“We’ve had some…”
Tori stepped in, cutting straight to the point. “Someone’s trying to hack into Ninja Ops’ system.”
“Unsuccessfully,” Cam said tersely. By the sound of his voice he was probably facing his computer and Hunter wasn’t sure if that was just normal oh-Hunter’s-talking nonchalance or if he should actually be worried that Cam couldn’t stop to belittle him properly. “I’m trying to backtrack it.”
When Cyber Cam added, “Also unsuccessfully,” Hunter let his worrying go into super-hyper speed.
He didn’t like Cam, but even Hunter could admit he was a genius. If he was having trouble…
Dustin stared at the phone in amazement. “Dude, no way.”
Cyber Cam gave the equivalent of a vocal-shrug, “It’s like a stalemate; no one’s losing anything but no one’s gaining any ground either.”
Blake rubbed a hand across the front of his face and Hunter resisted the urge to copy the motion. “Whoever it is must be super smart.”
No one said “No shit” but someone probably should have. If not just to keep some semblance of normality.
The fact that no one did, the fact that Hunter didn’t, indicated a level of deep-shittiness that none of them wanted to talk about.
“But he doesn’t have me!” Cyber Cam chirped, definitely louder and more enthusiastically than necessary, but it did the trick, breaking the team out of their hum-drum woes and refocusing them on the problem at hand.
Cam picked up the conversation smoothly, as though he never dropped it. “What Cyber Cam means is we should be able to trace the hack back to the source in a couple hours, at the most.”
Which was great and all, but what do they do when they get there? Who could be looking for them? Was someone looking for them? What-
“What does this mean?” Dustin asked, hesitant.
Hunter could feel the minute tremors running through the brunette’s body, resisting the temptation to lean into the injured ranger or reach out for some kind of physical reassurance. Ribs be damned, Hunter threw his arm over the brown-haired teen’s shoulder anyway, allowing the yellow ranger to rest his head against Hunter’s shoulder while the conversation rolled on.
Shane sighed. “We don’t know just- Take it easy, okay you guys? Keep your eyes open.”
Hunter allowed the other two to give their sign off’s first, a practice reserved for situations like this, when they were separated and needed to hear the sound of each of their voices, confirming they’re okay.
“Will do,” Blake murmured, nodding his head, and Dustin added, “Got it,” giving his phone a look as though it were Cam and the others, trying to give moral support and belief over a freakin’ phoneline.
“Read you loud and clear,” Hunter began slowly, his voice finally sounding as tired and worn out as he felt. “Hunter out.”
He hung up the phone, flipping it closed before carefully handing it back to Dustin, their bags of fast food and grease cool and unappealing.
Blake reached for them anyway, because they couldn’t run on nothing and none of them were fond of waste.
“Do you think something really bad’s about to happen?” he asked, distributing the burgers with care, Hunter’s the most loaded, Dustin’s the thinnest, as he was most picky.
Hunter sighed and unwrapped his burger, taking an unenthusiastic bite that tasted like sawdust, flinching as he felt a pang shoot up his side.
“I hope not,” he muttered.
He would say that life couldn’t possibly throw more crap their way, but that was a painful lesson he learned a long time ago.
He was pretty sure fate was willing to kick him in the face anyway, no tempting necessary; he wasn’t about to increase his chances.
His ribs couldn’t take much more of it.