The Barest Whiffs of Scorched Pants
Hunter was not having a good day.
He had not had a good yesterday either.
In fact, he was just going to go ahead and say that the day before that had been kind of crappy too, because even “kind of crappy” made this perpetual stream of bullshit look like the sunniest of Mondays.
Hunter was even willing to go out on a limb and say tomorrow would also be bad, because he was just that kind of optimist.
His ribs seconded this opinion, not that Hunter particularly cared. He was not on good speaking terms with those guys right now.
“Why does this shit keep happening to us?” Hunter asked, having to shout so Blake and Dustin could pick it up from his helmet’s external speakers. There was a twinge in his side, just a dull ache to remind him he wasn’t up to a hundred percent yet, but he pushed past it. “Honestly, you would think we’d committed genocide in our past lives or something.”
He finished this complaint with a rather stunning spin kick to a Kelzak’s chest, knocking it into a not-so-stealthy Marah attempting to sneak up on Dustin.
Across the room Blake spared a second to look at him. “Are you suggesting you were Hitler in your past life?” he asked, swinging his Thunder Staff in a low arc and knocking a wave of Kelzaks off their feet. “Because I know you beat yourself up sometimes…” He braced a foot against the wall behind him and launched himself into a streak, barreling full force into his target, Choobo. “But that’s taking self-hatred to an uncomfortably strong level.”
Dustin (who was fighting Kapri on the…ceiling somehow? Hunter wasn’t sure how he managed that one), knocked the pink-haired Kunoichi back with his Lion Hammer and glanced over at Blake. “Maybe we should like, actually send him to counseling, like we talked about.”
The crimson ranger paused mid-punch, allowing Marah to pull back and regroup, and tried to register what he had just heard. “Rewind a second, counseling?” he spat, sending a short burst of lightning at some Kelzaks getting a little too close to Blake’s back. “And who is this ‘we’?”
“It certainly didn’t involve me,” Blake murmured, trying for innocence Hunter knew for a fact he didn’t have.
Dustin confirmed this a second later, successfully smashing Kapri off of the ceiling and into the overturned coffee table. “Dude, of course it did, there was a whole team discussion about-”
“Team discussion?!” Hunter yelled, punching Marah harder than he had intended, knocking her across the room and…yeah, there went the kitchen table. “As in,” Hunter continued, holding onto that anger in preference for worrying over stuff he couldn’t control. “Including Shane?”
Dustin nodded nice and slow, and Hunter could tell by his posture he had that wide-eyed look he wore whenever he was trying to be informative. “Shane is part of the team.”
“I’m part of the team!” Hunter shouted back (though he really shouldn’t, he was stubborn like that) trying, and ridiculously failing, not to focus on the team behind-the-back gossipings.
He thought they had decided not to do that anymore! Because it never led to good things. They were not a group of people who could handle gossiping; too many of them were too goddamn unbalanced to know what was normal-stuff-you-can-keep-from-each-other and what was too oh-I-might-be-suffering-some-possible-internal-injuries/made-out-with-your-boyfriend-on-accident(emphasis on the accident)/I’m-not-emotionally-stable-enough-to-deal-with-happiness business that led to hospital trips and fights that led to hospital trips and breakdowns that led to people not talking to each other for a very long period of time and…okay, Hunter was getting a little sidetracked, but the point was they had all agreed, all of them, that if there was a major problem they would tackle it as a team with words and shit instead of just sneaking around and pulling highly nonsensical and elaborate schemes behind someone’s back to avoid the rather simple task of talking to them.
They had even made a pledge and everything. What was the point of having a pledge if they didn’t even stick to it?
But Blake (because Blake knew Hunter well enough to have some idea of the mental tirade he was going through right now) attempted to justify this backstabbing anyway, shooting off a small pulse of lightening that ended up with Kelzak bodies flying everywhere in a glorious fashion (and no, Hunter would not be won over so easily, even if it had been highly amusing). “Will you relax? Cam didn’t get invited either.”
Hunter was about to give the very original comeback of “No, I will not relax” when he was overcome by a wave of immeasurable glee that Cam had been excluded from team-activities, especially gossip-about-Hunter time. Cam would have loved to say bad things about Hunter but he couldn’t because he wasn’t invited-
“I thought that was because we thought he should go to counseling too.”
And there went Dustin, shattering the illusion. Hunter paused, long enough to get sent flying into the wall as he gave into the desire to mope a little. Shane had broken the pledge. He had broken the pledge and he hadn’t even excluded Cam (for the right purposes).
Yeah, that was less satisfying.
Blake sighed, or it could have just been a sharp exhale from smacking Choobo in the face, it was fifty-fifty. “You’re really not helping,” he groused.
Dustin waved an arm at him. Even though Blake couldn’t see him, it was still totally necessary, in Dustin’s world. “I take offense to that statement,” he complained, launching himself over the couch and kicking Kapri square in the ribs. Haha, payback. “I have been perfectly helpful.” He paused, sensing the other two had stopped fighting so that they could glare at him because no really, he hadn’t. “Aside from the accidentally-stealing-a-weapon thing,” he explained, as though this was a problem that could happen to anyone. “Other than that I have owned helpfulness.”
Blake moved so that he and Hunter were back-to-back, and muttered bitterly, under his breath, “You should probably return it.”
“Focus!” Hunter barked, pushing past his still-fading energy to focus on being peeved with the other two. Blake did not get off the hook just because Dustin had led them on a very long and unpleasant journey. That did not absolve Blake of his gossiping-misdeeds.
Blake scoffed, “I love how whenever we don’t talk about you, we’re the one’s not focusing.”
Above them Dustin flipped in a graceful arc, tone not-so-innocent when he offered to Blake, “I think you’re the one not being helpful right now.”
The navy ranger began to protest, “I am the epitome-”
“I’ll get you ranger!” Choobo yelled, the poor guy, just trying to fit in with the cool kids (but Hunter was totally going to murder him first chance he got; he did not forget Toxipod’s island).
“Yeah, yeah,” Blake muttered, probably rolling his eyes, and he punched Choobo right in the face, stranding the henchman on his back like a turtle. The Kelzaks swarmed over him, trying to take the monster’s place in battle and inciting displeased wails from Choobo. Unfortunate really; Hunter almost had a clear shot at his neck.
The crimson ranger grit his teeth when he heard a window shatter. Out of the corner of his eye he saw another swarm of Kelzaks charge their way. He sighed and broke away from Blake, trying to cut them off before they could scatter across the room. “I am not dignifying your unhelpfulness with a response,” he shouted towards Blake, and far in the kitchen he could see Dustin pump a fist into the air. “And second of all,” Hunter continued, propping the abandoned coffee table up to block off the open window. “Who the hell would counsel us?”
There was a distinct silence from the other two.
Hunter did not imagine this. He was pretty sure even Marah and Kapri could have picked up on it.
“…Yeah well,” Dustin eventually began, after they had exhausted their awkward silence quota for the afternoon. “That’s where we hit a roadblock.”
After that the answers came tumbling out; Blake picking up where the yellow ranger had left off.
“We were thinking Sensei-” Blake began, then Dustin popped in front of him, knocking Kapri out of the way but keeping his attention locked on Hunter.
“-But you guys usually ignore him when he talks about your relationship.”
Blake nodded, somehow taller than before and…oh, he was standing on top of Choobo, warding off Kelzaks and occasionally whacking the henchman with his staff when he got too wiggly. “The other choice was couples’ therapy; you two could’ve probably gotten away with that.”
Hunter had to stop that thought, he couldn’t process it, he didn’t want to process it; the very idea of thinking of processing the thought filled him with so many uncomfortable feelings he wanted to slam his head into the wall to be done with them.
“I would stab myself in the face before dating Cam,” Hunter replied, sounding far more pained than he wanted to, and Dustin did a double take.
“Hey-” the yellow ranger started, offended by this notion, and Blake cut him off.
“Well, you do need to work on your relationship.”
Hunter gave a weak shrug, still trying to erase the last five seconds of his memory. He was failing. “Our relationship is fine,” he mumbled bitterly.
He did not need this shit. Talking about his and Cam’s relationship was a topic he took great pains to avoid on a good day; doing it now was just short of torture. Scratch that, it was torture, because Hunter couldn’t leave. He had to stay with these two dopes and continue making a silent tally of all the furniture/knick-knacks/keepsakes of his idol’s they were destroying, and quite possibly go through another round of being chased by the Q-Rex, and maybe, if they were just especially lucky, they would end up doing some jail time for the whole mess.
And then one of the Silver Guardians would come and punch him right in the ribs. Really hard. That would just be the icing on the cake.
Hunter hated this day. It had started off so deceptively well. At least, compared to yesterday. Anything would have been better than yesterday.
Excluding today, apparently.
Instincts screamed at Hunter to check his right side and there was Kapri, sword back and ready, way too close for someone of Hunter’s skill level. He had about half a second before impact and he was trying to decide if he should counter or dodge (maybe pull his staff up and roll with the blow?) but then there was a blur of yellow, knocking the Kunoichi clear off her feet and at least five feet away.
Dustin looked at him, shoulders heaving from prolonged exertion. “You play mean pranks on each other that border-on-violent and call each other not-nice names.” He shook his head sagely. “That is not good team-mateship.”
Blake dropped down beside the brunette (what was with those two and the ceiling?) and nodded at Hunter. “It’s actually sort of a huge problem,” he said and then, still turned towards Hunter, he swung his staff down with one hand and smashed it against a Kelzak’s head, making a resounding thump.
“How did we start talking about this?” Hunter complained, really just trying to ask how his life had gotten to this point.
Dustin waved at him cheerfully. “Genocide!”
“Oh, right,” Hunter said, blinking. “Thank you Dustin.”
Dustin gave him a thumbs up and smacked Marah with the Lion Hammer, sending a sly look towards Blake. “Super helpful,” he whispered.
Blake, probably rolling his eyes, readjusted his grip on the Thunder staff, taking stock of their remaining adversaries. “Kiss up,” he mumbled, squaring his shoulders.
It happened...Hunter wasn’t sure what Blake had been going for, he honestly wasn’t. He thought maybe it could have been one last shockwave or something; knock them all off their feet so the rangers could make yet another tactful retreat. But instead of establishing a centralized point and distributing the energy out in waves, one of his arms got knocked to the side at the last minute, prematurely unleashing part of his attack in a specific location, as opposed to all around the room.
The end result was a hole in the ceiling.
IN THE CEILING.
Hunter was not having a good day.
On the bright side, something about mad destruction of property cued the dope-sisters and company’s complete withdrawal.
The bad news was Blake had blown a hole in the ceiling.
The three rangers stood off to the side just below Eric’s newly-renovated ceiling, heads tilted as they studied Blake’s work, trying to convince themselves it wasn’t as bad as they thought it was.
It wasn’t really working. For any of them. Not even for Dustin, and Dustin was the grand master of wishing things away.
They powered down with an assortment of sighs, moans, and generally confused sounds.
Dustin ran a hand through his sweaty hair, nose scrunched and eyes narrowed as he inspected the broken pipes and frayed wires protruding from the edge of the breach. “Well-”
“Don’t say it,” Blake muttered, eyes clenched shut as he tried to make this Fubar of an afternoon go away.
Dustin gave him a sympathetic look but didn’t back down, eyes earnest. “Someone has to.”
The navy ranger tensed, eyes still closed. “Just-” he began, fists clenching. He waited a second, then sighed, relaxing his hands. “Fine.”
Dustin nodded, then looked back at the ceiling. “I have to start over.”
Blake, despite the circumstances, went ahead and rolled his eyes, motioning for Dustin to continue. “Whatever just-”
“That can’t be good,” Hunter finished off, growling between clenched teeth.
How were they-?
What were they-?
Shane was going to kill him.
The curly-haired teen blinked at him, startled by the input but as always, undisturbed by Hunter’s negative tone. He shrugged innocently, saying, “Nope, not good at all.”
They paused for a minute, for longer than they should have, just… they were tired. At least, Hunter was tired. Blake was probably tired. And also depressed and mildly hating himself. Dustin was probably considering the advantages of having a hole in your bedroom floor. Optimist there, true to form.
Eventually Blake sighed and looked between the other two rangers. “Cheez-It?” he asked, initiating their emergency codeword that essentially translated to: “oh-shit, let us abscond from this hell hole, post haste”.
Hunter dropped his head, trying to decide if admitting defeat to fate would lessen the amount of misfortune that would bear down on them in the future, or if it would signal a full-on apocalypse of unpleasantries. The blond sighed, unable to determine an answer. “Yeah.”
They vacated the house in record time, deciding to regroup back at their temporary abandoned warehouse base.
It looked like he was going to have to make another “fun” call to Shane.
Hell, after all of this crap maybe he should go to counseling with Cam. Sure as hell couldn’t be any worse than this nonsense.
Between Wes and Carter they had managed to create a grid of Silver Hills, establishing sections to be patrolled by small teams of rangers. All of the sectors were located in the places closest to where the morpher net’s void was now and where it had been. Wes found it worrisome that it had continued moving, though he supposed it made sense if whoever had kidnapped the rangers wanted to minimize the chances of them being found.
Back at Bio Labs Justin, Angela and Trip watched the monitors and directed traffic, keeping an eye out for the teams that got closest to the missing rangers and Quantum Defender. In the meantime Kai and Sheila would continue trying to make contact with the Ninja Storm team, wherever they may be.
Carter was kind enough (to the other rangers) to volunteer himself for patrolling with Wes and Eric. The most recent data had the void centering on a suburban area. It was close to where Eric lived, though they wouldn’t be sure if that was merely a coincidence or vital to their search until later, when the information delay caught up.
To ere on the side of caution Wes had suggested they stop by Eric’s house, just in case. And while this did help out with the mission, he honestly just wanted to see whatever Leo had planted in wait for Eric. All the reds were familiar with the two’s ongoing war (though Eric preferred the more direct approach when it came to hazing). The sooner they figured out what Leo had done the sooner they could get to business and not worry about an agitated Eric, who would just be wondering what surprise Leo had in store for him.
Also, it would be magnificent to watch first hand, which also might have contributed to Carter volunteering to join them. Actually, it probably wasn’t, because Carter was an all-around nice guy who didn’t exclude grumpy Eric’s from his good-spirited nature.
Okay, just one stop and they’d be back on the road, no problems.
Worst came to worst, they would lose the time Eric spent cleaning up some mess. Maybe like a balloon filled with paint or something. Half an hour, tops.
After that it would be smooth sailing.
Shane had taken to alternating between pacing the length of the Ops’ main room and staring at Cam work from beside Tori who was, as always, the rock in this situation, providing a grounding point to the worried leader and frustrated green ranger as the morning wore on.
It was, as far as missions where he and Hunter were separated for a prolonged period of time and sickness ate at his stomach with unrelenting fury, not as horrible as it could have been. The waiting yes, that was unpleasant, it was always unpleasant when he was stuck out of the way somewhere, unable to contribute to his team, but at least the conditions that Hunter and the others were left with weren’t…completely unfavorable. Shane was confident that the three rangers would be fine, all they had to do was return a gun and, even considering Dustin and Hunter’s track-record for complicating the simplest of tasks, Blake’s solid presence should do something to counteract that un-natural phenomenon.
They were out but they were competent, strong, and adaptable. Shane knew Hunter worried over his abilities as a leader sometimes (shaken by the trust he put in Lothor, though he would never admit it, not to Shane, not to Blake) but the situation wasn’t bad. They would be fine; Shane had to keep faith in them.
Though that still left him with the tedious task of waiting for someone to pull through with some answers, trying not to count the minutes that had passed since Cam’s last bitter outburst or Dustin’s early-morning phone call. It only left each second that much more noticeable, and Shane had to fight not to release a weary sigh. Tori had started giving him warning looks about half-way through the morning; anymore and she would alter his behavior for him, changing the depressed sighs to pained moans. She would do it to. Had done it before.
God he loved Tori. He had no idea why she put up with all of them; he was just really glad she did. It was nice to have someone keep him from being too stupid (because Hunter only ever encouraged this, found it highly amusing when used to his advantage).
Shane was slumped next to Tori, her posture perfect and hands on her knees, posed for meditating but unable to completely give into it (the only sign of her anxiety) when Cam halted all action over by his computer monitor. He held still, head slowly cocking to the side as he studied the screen in front of him (confused? Did they finally break through? What had happened?). Tori and Shane shared a quick look and then crossed the room as fast as their legs would take them, each grabbing a hold onto the back of Cam’s chair, leaning over his shoulder to get a better look at what had baffled the tech.
It was…okay, Shane probably should have assumed he wouldn’t be able to understand what Cam was working on, but he hadn’t, because- nerves right? So he and Tori were staring at these unmoving lines of numbers and words, random brackets and colons and things that hurt his head just by looking at them, and Cam immediately batted the two interlopers away from his screen, giving them both tired glares as he began to explain what was going on.
“It’s Cyber Cam,” he said, clicking on a few lines and tapping his mouse irritably. “He stopped responding.”
“And that’s-” Shane began, immediately alarmed because that was not good, that was so not-good that his previous assumptions on the situations condition were laughable, absolutely laughable-
Just as they were about the break into a proper panic the renegade program graced them with his presence, sounding mildly distracted. “Oh, sorry dude. Didn’t mean to worry you.”
Cam leaned forward, unleashing another furious string of keyboard commands, fingers flying across the keyboard as his eyes narrowed. “Have you been compromised?”
“Only in the best of ways,” Cyber Cam cheerfully replied, and yeah, that didn’t calm the green ranger at all. Tori put a comforting hand on the middle of Cam’s back, trying to discretely calm away the newest onslaught of tension.
Shane grit his teeth, knowing it might be moot because if the program had been compromised whoever who had done the actually compromising probably wouldn’t allow him to be all that forthcoming about it, but Shane had faith in Cam and his program, and decided to give talking a shot anyway. “Why did you become unresponsive?”
“Kind of busy,” Cyber Cam said, sounding like he was only giving them half a mind. “Made a new friend.”
“What-?” Cam began, gripping the sides of his monitor as though that were a physical manifestation of his creation. “What do you mean-?”
“Dude,” the program interrupted, sounding just a bit…dreamy? “I just have to say- life complete. At this exact moment I am the happiest collection of ones and zeros the world has ever known.”
“Cyber Cam-” the green ranger started, warning in his voice as he picked up with his typing duties, glaring at his keyboard furiously.
“Look, I’ll be back with you guys in a few. In the meantime…” If Cyber Cam were projecting himself there would no doubt be a devil-may-care smile on his face, eyes dancing at the idea of a new adventure, a new game to play, a new project to tackle. “I’ve got to do some very important uh…data verification.” And there the smile would have widened, Cyber Cam looking beyond them, eager for the task ahead. “Yep, definitely gotta get to that.”
And with that he was gone, off the line, and no amount of effort or cursing from his creator could reestablish a connection with the program.
Yeah…whatever Shane had said about the situation being not so bad?
He was a liar.
He was the lying-est liar who ever did lie.