"Do you see them?" Chad asked as they raced toward the cliff where Ryan and Captain Mitchell had gone over. His question was met with silence. Finding an entrance to the quarry floor was more difficult than they had liked so they had abandoned the rover on the side of the road, slide down an incline too steep and high for the vehicle and set out on foot.
As they came over a rise a figure in black came into view struggling to his feet. "Ryan!" Dana cried as the group came to a stop, unsure of how to approach him. He turned to them and Dana's breath caught. In some part of her mind she had expected to see the face of the young boy that she remembered; but the face was lean and rough, surprise in the eyes that had held so much hatred the day before. The air twisted and Vypra suddenly appeared beside him. She sent the rangers a deadly gaze then spoke to Ryan. The rangers were too far off to hear her but as she spoke they saw her reach out and grip his bicep tightly. Nodding, he looked over at Dana, then to the spot he had been staggering from. Dana followed his gaze to a motionless body. "Father!" she exclaimed rushing forward, the other rangers quickly followed after her. As they got closer Vypra disappeared with Ryan in a swirl of purple light. Dana reached her father first and knelt at his side. "Father?" She heard a low moan escape his lips. Thank god. She breathed a sigh of relief. "He's alive," she announced to the others, who had gathered around.
"But how?" Kelsey asked, looking up at the cliff top, "There's no way he could have survived that fall."
"Not by himself," Carter said, looking at the group then turning to where Ryan had disappeared.
"Explain to me, given your opportunities, why your father and sister are still alive." Diabolico asked, as Ryan knelt before him. He had sent the other demons away, wishing to speak to Ryan alone. Vypra and Loki left begrudgingly, eyeing Ryan. He had spent so many years working to gain their respect but their faces now reminded him of how they looked at him as a child. The weak human. He lowered his head, not willing to look Diabolico in the eye. Nothing could excuse his failure. He could almost feel the gold demon's grip tighten around the staff. "Ryan…" He prodded; a dangerous edge to his voice. He wouldn't accept silence.
"Forgive me, Diabolico. I have shown you nothing but failure."
"Yes," he sneered, "this I have observed but I want to know why. Revenge was within your grasp, yet you did nothing with it." Ryan hesitated, making Diabolico watch him more closely.
"I," he hated having to explain his weakness to Diabolico, "I don't know what happened. I was breaking him down but his mind overwhelmed me. I tried to hold it back but…"
"Impossible," Diabolico interrupted, "I trained you myself. Their weak minds wouldn't be a threat to you."
Ryan flinched slightly, remembering the lessons where Diabolico had forced his mind on him. He looked up, "I believe that's why I couldn't keep them back. You have taught me to block focused attacks. My father's mind was panicking, it was unfocused, unpredictable."
There was silence as Diabolico thought this through. It made sense but… his red eyes studied Ryan. Returning with such a failure he had expected him to be penitent, yes, but also angered and frustrated by it. Instead he was quiet and unsure.
"What did you see?" he asked, as he began to circle him.
"What?" Ryan asked, twisting his head to follow Diabolico's movement as he walked behind him.
"You said that you were overwhelmed by you father's mind. What did you see?"
He was still trying to completely understand what he had seen on the cliff. What it meant. "I saw the night of the crash… from my father's perspective." That it had been from his father's view was obvious but he said it to make it clear what he had seen.
"And?" Diabolico prodded.
He continued, watching Diabolico as he came full circle, "My father tried to save me, as I fell he agreed to let you help, then begged for me to be returned."
"How like a human to enter into an agreement and then try to weasel out of it," Diabolico said, stopping in front of Ryan again.
Ryan became bolder, "You said that he never agreed, that he let me fall."
Diabolico turned to him, his eyes narrowing, "So he saved you then?"
"No, I -"
"Whether he agreed or not, you fell and he could do nothing about it. His weakness would have been your death if I had not come. Would you prefer that I had let you fall?"
Sometimes. Unsure if Diabolico had heard this, he answered out loud, "No."
"And if he had saved you? What then? You would have grown among the humans having an empty life, seeking after their meaningless objects, striving for their power that is nothing compared to our own." Diabolico lifted his hand, waving it in the air and spoke more slowly, eying Ryan, "I suppose their world is tempting, though, with their… celebrations… and sweet treats."
Ryan flinched. He never knew when Diabolico was watching him. He had dreamt the other night about the cake he had seen in his father's office. He had been with his family.
"But would it have been enough, Ryan?" he asked, cocking his head slightly, "You know as well as I that you would never quite belong, never be satisfied with what they could give you. You know why." Ryan lowered his head. "With them you would never reach your potential, you would have remained as lost and meaningless as they are. Do you believe they would have understood your hunger, Ryan? That they would have accepted the darkness that we both know is inside of you?"
Ryan's stomach tightened. No. He was too different from the humans now. He could never live among them.
"Return to your chamber until I call for you. Contemplate what your next move should be." Ryan rose, nodded to Diabolico and turned to leave. Almost as second thought Diabolico spoke again, "Ryan." He stopped, but didn't turn around. "The same thing happened with your sister?"
He saw Dana struggling to breath as he tightened his grip, then her hair fell from her face. "Yes, Diabolico."
"I see. We will work on your control later."
Ryan nodded again and exited the cavern.
Aqua Base Med Lab
Capt. Mitchell lay unconscious on a med bed while the rangers and Ms. Fairweather grouped together on the other side of a curtain. "How is he?" Carter asked, speaking for the team.
"He hit his head pretty hard but other than some cuts and bruises he's fine. Which surprises me after hearing how far he fell."
A moan sounded from the other side of the curtain. Then they heard the captain's voice mumble, "Ryan?"
Dana broke from the group and ran around the curtain, "Father! Thank goodness you're awake." Her voice was hoarse and she had to suppress the urge to cough; that would only intensify the pain in her neck.
William looked up, "Dana," he paused and brought a hand up to his head to ease the throbbing. "Dana, where's Ryan?"
The smile left her face and she moved closer to the bed, "He's not here, Father."
"Where is he? I need to see him." He thinks Ryan came back with us. William saw the sadness enter Dana's eyes. "Is he alright?" he asked, fear in his voice. Behind the curtain they heard the door close as the rangers and Ms. Fairweather quietly left.
"Father, he's not here. When we reached the bottom of the cliff Vypra came and took him back to the demons."
"What?" William's heart tore. "Why would he go? He believed me. I know he did. Why else would he have saved me?"
Dana leaned in, grabbing her father's hand, "So he did save you?"
He squeezed her hand back, "Yes, he morphed and took most of the impact of the fall." He closed his eyes and gently rubbed the bridge of his nose, "Why?" he asked mostly to himself.
"Father, he's not the Ryan we remember. Who knows what he's been through all these years. As much as we want him to be that little boy who played with fire trucks and…" her voice broke, "and always protected me…"
William had been only aware of her presence before but now he really looked at her. Her skin was scratched and raw on her cheek and over her arms, with some bandages covering the worse ones. But what got his attention were the patterned bruises around her neck. "Dana," he brought his hand up to touch them and looked into her eyes, "you went after him didn't you?"
She looked down, "I thought I could reach him but…"
"You could have been killed." His stomach turned to think Ryan could have done that to her.
She looked at her father and raised her eyebrows, "What were you doing on the cliff?"
William opened his mouth to defend himself and sighed, "You're too much like me."
"Good," Dana smiled, "I've got that going for me at least."
William shook his head, "Your mother would never have been as reckless as me."
Dana looked at her father, concerned. He never spoke about her mother. Never. But she took the opportunity he presented her. "Do you think I look like her?" She had been told by Earl that she did, and she had pictures, but only saw her mother when she looked at them.
He didn't look at her right away but seemed to stare out at nothing. "Ryan really did… when he was a child, but," he finally looked at her and cupped her cheek in his hand, "you seem to take more after her now, in your eyes and your smile." A tear rolled down into the creases of his hand but she quickly gripped his arm, her voice insistent, "Then Ryan isn't lost to us Father. I know how we can reach him."
Ryan sat up on the stone slab shaking his head and ran his hand through his hair in frustration. He had tried to meditate, tried to sleep; anything to keep his mind from dwelling on the events of the day but it wasn't working.
Nothing has changed. My loyalty is still to Diabolico. The rangers are still my enemies.
Not all of them.
The pink ranger. His sister. He wished he could forget her face. Could he even fight her again? He groaned and pushed himself off the slab. This morning he wouldn't have hesitated, but now… and even his father.
His father had wanted to save him. He agreed to let Diabolico help. But did it matter? Diabolico hadn't even flinched when Ryan revealed what he had learned. He was more angry at Ryan's wavering than worried about the revelation. He had lied to Ryan, but was that really a surprise? He had been taught that everyone lied, to never turn your back on anyone. He had basically been told not to trust Diabolico, but everything he ever said made sense.
He understood why he had lied. Diabolico needed an unwavering warrior, one that was completely loyal. Telling him that his father had wanted him might have shaken that resolve. But saying that it didn't matter…
Ryan shook his head. He now remembered that night as if he were William Mitchell. He had seen it through his eyes. His father loved him. He cared about him. He hadn't been shown that level of concern since… he suppressed the memory before it could surface.
Rubbing his temples his sighed, he needed to focus. It didn't help that his head was pounding. Usually meditation and sleep replenished his energy but it didn't seem to be as effective since leaving the tomb. He quickly exited his chamber. He needed to get out of the cave to somewhere he could think, where he didn't feel like he was constantly being watched. He would just have to hope that no one would be looking for him until he returned.
Capt. Mitchell and Ms. Fairweather entered the command center together, quickly making their way to a main monitoring console.
"I really don't think you should be up and about yet Captain." Ms. F argued.
"You're the one who told me to get some sleep; now I'm not tried." He turned his attention to the attendant, "When did he show up?"
"We picked him up on the scanner just a few minutes ago, Captain. We called you right away."
"Why hasn't the base been put on alert?" asked Ms. F.
The attendant hesitated but Capt. Mitchell answered for him. "I told them to let me know first if they monitored anything strange about the Titanium ranger. So?" he asked as he leaned over the console looking at the screen.
"Honing beacons were put in all the ranger's morphers including the Titanium rangers'. We can't seem to track him when he's with the demons, where ever it is they go."
"Yes, yes," said Ms. F impatiently, "I put them in myself, what is your point?"
"Whenever we have been able to track the Titanium ranger he has been somewhere deep in the city. Currently he is on the outskirts of the city and heading farther away."
"The mountain pass?" asked the captain.
"No sir. Just in the mountains, probably a dirt road or a trail."
Ms. F looked perplexed, "What is he doing?"
The attendant took a deep breath. "Well ma'am, from what I've observed since we picked up his signal," he paused, "it looks likes he's out for an evening run."
This time Ms. F leaned closer to the screen, "What?"
Capt. Mitchell put his hand on the young man's shoulder, "You made the right decision. Keep this quiet for now but call in the rangers, we need to send them out."
Ms. Fairweather pulled William off to the side, her voice quiet, "Why is this being kept quiet? If the rangers get into trouble we need everyone at the monitors."
William glanced at the young man as he called the rangers, then back at Ms. Fairweather, "Ryan's identity is getting out. This operation is now being closely watched. If my superiors don't like what's going on or they don't feel like I can be trusted then I could be replaced."
"Replaced?" she asked, alarmed. She shook her head, "They wouldn't do that Captain, you've been a part of Lightspeed since its creation. You're the reason it was created."
"That may not be enough anymore. Now they'll think that I had ulterior motives behind everything that I've done."
Angela paused, giving him a funny look, "But you have Captain. When I was brought into the Lightspeed program I could tell right away that something else was driving you. That it was more than just following orders or wanting to save the world. I just never figured it out until now. He's your son, Captain; they should realize that would motivate someone more than anything else. You've expected nothing less than the best from this operation and you've given nothing less than your best. The advances we've created wouldn't be here if you weren't there pushing us, even the Titanium powers were…" She trailed off her face calculating. Suddenly she looked a William, her eyes wide, "My god, Captain. It was for him, wasn't it?" she asked, almost accusing. "I couldn't understand why you wanted the power levels so high, so specific, too high for a human handle. But somehow you knew, didn't you? You knew he was compatible." Williams face was unreadable. "How? How could you know?"
"Captain!" They turned to see Carter and the other rangers enter the command center. He glanced back at Angela "We're going to need you at the labs monitor," he said, then went to fill in the rangers.
Her eyes stayed focused on the captain a moment more, then she quickly made her way to the lab. How could he know that Ryan was compatible to the morphing grid? He was taken long before the first power rangers even showed up. Before we figured out how to tap into that power.
Ryan ran. The trees flew past him, creating green streaks in his vision. He didn't know why he chose this place to clear his mind. All of the open space made him uneasy. The city was just as bad. He had grown up around, what, five demons? There were so many humans they practically lived on top of each other. He felt secure in the cave with the walls surrounding him.
The sun rested just over the horizon. That made him feel better at least. The constant light only furthered his headache. As shadows merged in the forest the air grew cooler. He felt tired. Why wasn't meditation rejuvenating him anymore? It helped but he still felt weak afterwards. His vision suddenly faded out, his senses became numb and distantly he felt himself impact the ground.
He remained motionless on the ground as his vision returned. What the hell was that? He began to get up but once again his head became light and he dropped to the ground. He waited a few minutes for the dizziness to subside then slowly rose to his knees. What was happening? He took his time getting to his feet. Maybe he shouldn't have ignored his weakened state.
Ready to head back down the trail he paused as he noticed a cabin in the direction he had been running. Surprised that he hadn't seen it earlier he slowly walked toward it for a closer look. There were no lights on and no sign of any humans. A breeze rushed by as he past a tree and from the corner of his eye he noticed some movement. He turned, ready to attack, but let out a short laugh as he saw a swing attached to one of the branches. About to dismiss it he heard distant laughter in his mind.
He glanced around expecting to maybe see someone but the voice was in his mind. Not his mind, a memory? Wary now he walked up to a window, searching the inside. It was dark inside but he could see it clearly. Sheets covered furniture and it looked like it hadn't been lived in for a while.
He pushed back from the window, startled.
A fire truck! Yeah!
Another one, Mom?
Now, Bill, if your son wants to be just like you, he'll get no discouragement from me.
He continued backing away from the house, his eyes wide. He looked at the swing then back to the house, he knew this place. Pain suddenly coursed through his body as a bolt of electricity knocked him to the side and into a tree. He shook his head to clear the daze and looked up at his attacker.
"You dare disobey me again?!" Diabolico thundered, his staff charged and shot out another wave of electricity. He knew better than to block it but jumped clear as it collided with the tree behind him, breaking it in half. He watched the tree as it crashed to the ground taking the swing with it. He turned back just as the staff hit his head and everything went black.
He became aware of the ground beneath him, then his vision and senses came back to him. He was once again in the dirt; the pounding in his mind had intensified so his head actually felt like it was pulsating. He was farther away from the house. He must have been thrown there. As Diabolico descended upon him Ryan realized that this was the second time that day he was involved in a scene like this. Earlier, though, he had been the one attacking and his sister on the ground. He turned away; waiting for Diabolico to strike; but it never came. Turning back he saw Diabolico only a few feet away, standing, his staff beside him, waiting.
Slowly, painfully, he rose from the ground to his knees and lowered his head in submission. Silence. A moment passed but he dared not look up. The staff moved again, he flinched slightly, and then electricity shot into him. Instead of knocking him back it pressed him harder into the ground. At the close range the blast was more concentrated, he couldn't help but cry out as it cut at his insides. It ended abruptly leaving Ryan shaking.
"I thought you had learned obedience long ago, Ryan. But it was my mistake I guess, trusting in a human."
He felt sick. He body continued to shake. "Forgive me, Diabolico."
"Forgive you; it seems that is all I have done since calling you from the tomb. Have all these years been wasted? All the training? So you could came back and fail?"
"I… didn't expect this," Ryan confessed.
"Expect what?" Diabolico asked, his voice suspicious.
He tried to find the words, "That…they would…"
"Who? Your family?" Diabolico made a sound similar to a snort. "You think they care for you? Of course they would try and convince you of this. You have the power to destroy them." He stopped and looked at their surrounding. His eyes showed recognition.
Did Diabolico know this place?
He turned back to Ryan and studied him. "What are you doing here?" his voice accusing.
"I needed to clear my mind. So I ran and ended up here."
"And you find this more effective than what I have taught you?"
"I meditated but it didn't help." Ryan said, trying to defend his actions somehow.
Diabolico took in Ryan's tired appearance, his shaking body. He addressed him, his voice still suspicious, "What's wrong?"
He wanted to laugh. What's wrong? Nothing had been right since he had fought his sister, "I don't know."
Diabolico's jaw clenched. "I am trying to help you Ryan but you haven't told me everything about today. I suspected as much since your return." He let go of his staff, which continued to stand alone, and closed the distance between them. "Since you seem unwilling to tell me, we will just have to begin your lessons sooner."
His body went rigid. His mind froze. No! I don't have the strength to hold him back. "I…"
"Was given an opportunity," he said, stretching forth his hands. He didn't need physical contact to look into Ryan's mind, but it helped.
As soon as the hand was on his shoulder his surroundings disappeared. Images whirled through his mind. It felt like layers of skin were being peeled from his mind. He tried to somehow pull away but he was underwater with no surface to reach.
The events of the day flew by him together. He was fighting Dana, he picked her up and broke her neck. The image had split showing what he had wanted to do and what actually happened with variations splitting off of that. In one the blast had killed her; another he broke bone after bone as she cried out in pain. These images appeared intangible, not as solid as the true image. "Mom?" It sickened him how weak his voice sounded. He was on the cliff with his father. He killed him a hundred different ways.
"Ryan?" Dana lay on the ground coughing up blood and the image suddenly changed. A different girl lay in Dana's place. Her long dark hair covered in dirt. She reached out for him with a tanned bloody hand. "Ryan." Her voice was quiet, strained, pleading. She shouldn't have been able to talk at all; blood flowed from the cut in her throat. "Ryan." He couldn't close his eyes, this was in his mind. She screamed, "RYAN!"
He hit the ground, rolled once, and came to a stop. All of his strength was gone. His vision pulsed in and out. He looked up and saw laser blasts hitting Diabolico, forcing him back. "Ryan!" He knew that voice.
The rangers were suddenly at his side. "Stay away from him!" Dana commanded.
Diabolico looked at the rangers' leveled weapons, then to the right. The staff was still standing alone out of arms reach. He narrowed his eyes, looking between Ryan and the rangers. Ryan knew he would be slightly weakened from probing his mind. Diabolico snarled in fury, "This far from over rangers. You've won nothing. He is still mine." With that threat he disappeared in a swirl of golden light followed a second later by his staff.
"No," Ryan moaned, trying to lift himself.
Dana knelt beside him, "It's alright, Ryan," she said, placing a hand on his shoulder, "We've got you now."
He threw off her hand but a wave of blackness swept over him and he collapsed, unconscious, to the ground.