The image of Hunter and Blake helpless inside the building dominated Cam's thoughts as he raced towards the growing flames. Any second now, the bomb would go off and reduce the structure to so much ash and rock, but he had to try to save them. He could hear Shane and Tori shouting behind him, but he couldn't make out the words. Dustin was already incapacitated; at least the Yellow Ranger was still breathing.
This monster was more dangerous than any he could remember; it hadn't forced a head-on confrontation. The Rangers were simply too strong for any of Lothor's goons to beat through pure force. Instead, it had kidnapped Hunter just as Hunter had once taken Cam, and when Blake had run after his brother, it had taken him too. Cam hadn't been able to locate their Power signatures or their lifesigns, until the alien itself had contacted him with its ultimatum.
Either the Rangers save their friends, or their friends would die.
It was a trap. Of course it was a trap. And yet, they'd had no choice but to go in, not after seeing Hunter bruised and beaten, slumped protectively over a Blake in not much better condition. They hadn't realized until they arrived that it was a trap in both the literal and figurative sense.
The alien – it had yet to give itself a name, and Dustin had taken it upon himself to name it "Ugly" – had stood in the middle of an abandoned lot with its glittering misshapen arms folded over its protruding chest, thrown its malformed head back, and laughed. They had stopped uncertainly at the edge of the gravel. The building behind the alien – derelict, falling apart – was already burning.
Cam had detected another energy source in the building, and right alongside it were the Thunder Rangers. He had glanced at the others. "You distract him, and I'll go in," he had told them quietly, adding unnecessarily, "They're inside."
"Gotcha." Dustin had probably been grinning as he replied and raised his voice. "Hey, Ugly!" He had waved madly at it. "Dude, what're you doin' all the way over there?" Cam had snuck off, not paying much attention to the Wind Rangers. His plan had been simple; he'd come around behind the building, get inside out of sight of "Ugly", and bring Hunter and Blake out.
No plan, however simple or well thought-out, ever survives the first engagement of battle.
The second the Wind Rangers had stepped onto the lot, the traps had started to go off. The entire field had been – was still – rigged with pitfalls. Explosions had rocked the ground as the Wind Rangers had staggered and fallen back. Cam had paused, not sure if he should go back and help his friends. He had shaken his head and decided not to. They were much more competent than they had been when they'd gotten the Ranger powers. They'd be fine. At that moment, he had stepped upon the field.
Ugly had left nothing to chance. Cam's first footfall onto the gravel had tossed him to the ground again, panting from the shockwave. It had taken him a few seconds to realize that the gravel itself contained the explosives, but he had no choice other than to cross it. He had climbed to his feet and started forward again, only to find Ugly blocking his path. "Not so fast," it had said.
"Dustin was right," Cam had returned. "You are ugly." He had darted past it, barely dodging each successive blast. Out of the corner of his eye, he had seen Dustin's prone but still-morphed figure lying on the ground outside the lot, and Shane and Tori slowly getting up not far away.
The monster had attacked Cam from behind, but he had met it with a spin kick and sent it flying towards the Wind Rangers. It had triggered its own traps as it landed, and he had felt a grim sort of satisfaction. He had been nearly upon the building before he had realized what the other energy source was.
Ugly had planted a bomb, and the timer was steadily ticking down.
Cam had paused and turned around. Shane and Tori had gotten their feet and were fighting, but Dustin still hadn't moved. "Guys! The building's going to explode! Get Dustin out of here!" He had paused and then shouted again. "I'm going in after Hunter and Blake!"
The shouting behind him increased, but he still couldn't quite hear what they were saying. "I know there's a bomb," he muttered, and ran faster. The fire intensified as he got closer, roaring in his ears like a living being. He threw up a hand against the heat and darted towards the door. Just as he reached it, the timer hit zero.
Fire blossomed out of the doorway towards him, riding the edge of the blast. More quickly than he could register, the light changed from fire to sun and he dimly heard Shane start to apologize before he hit the ground and lost consciousness completely.
* * *
The first thing to register was the sound of Tori's concerned voice. "Cam? Cam? Are you all right? Come on, Cam, wake up."
He raised a shaky hand to his forehead. "I'm all right, Tori," he said without opening his eyes. "Just give me a minute." He cracked his eyes open, but the light was blindingly bright and he shut them again. Tori snaked an arm under his shoulders and helped him sit up.
"Don't move too fast, all right?" As soon as he was balanced, she drew away. Cam rubbed his eyes.
"How's Shane?" The last he had seen, Shane and Tori had been fighting the monster, and if she was here, then he was probably all right as well. It was the safest question to ask.
"Shane?" Tori sounded genuinely confused. "He's fine. He's the one who hit you, remember?"
Cam opened his eyes. He seemed to be on the lawn in front of Blue Bay University, and Tori was crouched in front of him. At least, it looked sort of like Tori, only with a lot of details wrong. For one thing, she was wearing red. "Uh… Tori?"
She shook her head. "You forgot to eat breakfast again this morning, didn't you. That's probably why you fainted. Hang on, I'll be right back. Shane!" She called this last over his shoulder, and Cam found himself confronted with a subtly unfamiliar Shane.
This Shane crouched down in front of Cam, looking worried and somehow lacking that underlying sense of confidence that had characterized him since he'd been given the morpher. At least he was still wearing his color. "Hey, you all right?" he asked.
"I'm fine," Cam replied cautiously. Something bizarre was obviously going on.
Shane nodded, relieved. "I really didn't mean to hit you so hard, you know. I just didn't look where I was going."
"Uh…" Cam shook his head slightly. "Yeah. Um." He looked around. "Where are the others?"
"Oh, Tor told you about them? Dustin's late again. He usually is. He's got no sense of direction." Shane smiled apologetically.
Cam regarded him warily; Shane usually didn't…babble…quite so much. "Are you all right?" he asked. He knew he was asking a lot of questions, but it was the only way he could keep his thoughts in line instead of panicking in circles.
"Totally fine. Like I said, I'm really sorry."
"It's okay." Cam climbed to his feet, Shane helping just a little. "I'm fine, really." As far as he could tell, he really was in front of Blue Bay University, on a sunny day at the start of the fall semester. The air moved just slightly in the breeze off the ocean, birds sang in the background, and the students moved unconcernedly across the campus. If this was an illusion, it was a very good one.
"Hey, there's Dustin." Shane smiled, the first unconcerned expression Cam had seen since waking up. "He's got Hunter and Blake with him."
Cam turned to look in the direction Shane was pointing. Sure enough, Dustin was jogging towards them, a sheepish expression on his face, trailed by the other two. All three of them were wearing motocross gear. Cam frowned, his relief at seeing the three of them unharmed eclipsed by a puzzling question. When had they found time to change into motocross gear? What the hell is going on here?
"Sorry, dude," Dustin called. "We ran late at the track. It was totally sick today, man." He ruffled his curly hair with one muddy hand. "Hey," and he directed his attention to Cam. "You must be the mysterious Cam Tori keeps talking about. This's Hunter, and that's Blake, and I'm Dustin." He grinned.
"Oh, man, I'm sorry! I'm Shane," Shane said abashedly. "It's nice to finally meet you, Cam."
Cam stared, one corner of his mind registering for the first time that not only was his morpher missing, so was everyone else's. "I think…" he swallowed. "I think I need to sit down."
Radiating chagrin and concern, Shane immediately put an arm over Cam's shoulders and steered him to a bench. Cam sank down on it, propping his head in his hands. "Are you sure you're okay? Should we take you to the hospital or something?"
"Dude, what's going on?" Dustin crouched in front of Cam. "What did you do this time, dude?" He sounded slightly muffled, as if he'd turned around. He was probably facing Shane, Cam thought distantly.
"I'm fine," he managed past the realization that had finally beaten its way to the forefront of his mind. "I just… I'm fine." But he wasn't.
Somehow, Lothor's monster had transported him to another dimension entirely, and without his morpher, he had no way of getting back.
To Be Continued...