AN: …I really don't know what to say.
Words cannot describe what this story has come to mean to me. I've had so much fun throughout this entire experience. Kila has been an absolute joy and I'm so grateful for getting the chance to work with her. She's a great writer and a great friend and it's been just awesome to see what she's done with this.
Watching the way this story has evolved has really been cool. It's hard to believe a two-page oneshot grew into this. (This is the longest fanfiction I've ever contributed to – that alone is pretty exciting for me.) I can't believe we're ready to unveil it; I'm so excited to hear what everyone thinks! I hope you all enjoy it as much as we do.
Happy reading – and Happy Halloween!
AN THE SEQUEL: Oh, holy cow.
First off, I find it hard to believe BG could even put up with me this long, much less find all those wonderful things to say. She was a wonderful person to write with, she's a fantastic talent and such a warm, easygoing person. I'm proud to call her my friend and I just want to let you all know that most of the really good writing, most of the actual idea work and y'know, prose were hers. I just helped it along.
That said, this fic has been our cherished personal project for I don't know how long, probably over a year, and I can't wrap my mind around the fact that after all this time it's finally being unveiled to the public. I sincerely hope the public enjoys it as much as we have.
Best wishes (that no one will egg your house this year),
Dark of the Night
Part 1: Misery
'You say you gotta be cruel to be kind, in the right measure
Cruel to be kind, it's a very good sign
Cruel to be kind, it means that I love you
Ya gotta be cruel
Ya gotta be cruel to be kind.'
~Nick Lowe, 'Cruel to be Kind'
Buzz drummed his fingers on the control panel, scowling. Behind him, XR and Mira were bantering, a typical little disagreement over whether or not XR was a sexist pig unfit to walk the earth.
Buzz wasn't really paying attention so he didn't know why, but this argument seemed to be going on longer than usual. Eventually he realized they both looked really angry and were neglecting their control panels to yell at each other.
"XR! Mira!" he barked.
They both turned and snapped "What?"
"Get it together, guys, this is serious business! Now get back to your panels!"
XR glared at him. "My panel? How can I just go back to my panel when she- she insulted my very being!!"
Buzz raised an eyebrow and looked over at Mira. She was scowling and shaking her head. "When are you gonna get over that? Ugh! You're such a baby!"
Buzz frowned. "What exactly is he talking about?"
Mira opened her mouth to speak and XR talked over her. "What am I talking about? What am I TALKING about? She treats my welfare as some kind of joke and- I'm sick of the spoiled-princess bit!"
Mira's eyes widened and she whipped around in her chair. "Excuse me?! I'm spoiled? I'M spoiled?!"
XR folded his arms over his chest, scowling. "Spoiled, immature, selfish- the list goes on."
Mira's lips pressed into a thin line and she pointed emphatically into thin air. "You are living in a glass house, my friend."
Buzz frowned. "But what did she do?"
"What did she DO?" XR cried. "She- she-"
"I dared to point out that maybe his fear of NOS-4-A2 is a little unfounded because he DIED SIX MONTHS AGO," Mira said, folding her arms over her chest and slumping in her seat.
XR chuckled spitefully. "Dared to point- heh, okay, that's not what- she came up behind me and yelled 'boo, it's NOS-4-A2'." His hands clenched into fists. "THAT'S NOT POINTING SOMETHING OUT! THAT'S PSYCHOLOGICAL TORTURE!"
She slammed her hand on the dashboard. "I said I was sorry! Ugh! Get OVER yourself!"
"YOU get over yourself!"
Buzz had heard enough. "Okay, rangers, that's enough. XR, let it go. Mira, stop picking on him."
"I wasn't picking on him," she insisted. "It was just a joke!"
"Well, in that case he wouldn't be so upset," Buzz said, adjusting the ship's controls.
"Exactly! He shouldn't be upset!" Mira said, throwing her hands in the air. "He's just so sensitive about-"
"All right, fine. XR, stop being so sensitive. Now-"
"Hey!" XR cried, throwing his own hands into the air in an unconscious mirroring of Mira's gesture. "Joke?! I can take a joke! This was a lot more than a joke, Buzz! This-"
"I don't care what it was!" Buzz snapped. Frowning, he turned his attention to the ship's controls. His tone was sharp. "All right. I'm assigning you two to a traffic jam on Tradeworld. You're gonna work together, and you're gonna work this out. Okay?"
"All right!" Buzz mentally patted himself on the back for finding a good excuse to get that assignment out of the way. He'd been wondering who to dump that awful traffic jam onto. And Mira and XR could fix their issues... two birds with one stone. "Now, Booster, you and I are going to Krellmar 6, there's a bit of a spider-rat problem there..."
"Okay, guys, move along," Mira said in a bored tone, her voice amplified by the megaphone she was holding.
"Ugh, I can't believe this!" XR grumbled beside her.
They were standing on the curb, surrounded by smog and mist and the smells and sounds of more than twenty cars with angry Tradeworld citizens inside. The air was dim and dank and the nastiness did nothing but fuel her aggravation.
She sighed exasperatedly, shooting him a warning glance. "Just suck it up and let's get this over with, okay?"
He raised his eyebrows. "'Suck it up?' I'm sorry, was that another vampire reference intended to not scare me?"
Mira groaned and set down the megaphone for a moment, rolling her eyes. "Sweet mother of Venus! Will you let it go?!"
XR started drumming one foot, looking away from her and pressing his lips together. "Fine."
Mira narrowed her eyes at him, then shook her head, scowling. "No, it's not fine! You're still throwing a hissy fit!"
"I was never throwing a hissy fit, and-"
"You are so throwing a hissy fit, you little-"
The squeal of brakes and loud, sustained blast of a car horn cut her off. She jumped, hastily picking up the megaphone. "Alright, guys, break it up, just keep moving…"
"Sweet mother of Venus, this assignment is a drag," XR muttered, flicking a loose chip of paint off his thumb.
She lowered the megaphone, glaring over at him. "You brought this on yourself, XR."
He glared back at her. "Oh, did I? Who came up behind who and taunted them with their worst fear, hmm?"
"It was just a joke, will you get over it already? If you had just let it go, we wouldn't be out here right now."
"No, if you hadn't made the stupid joke in the first place we wouldn't be out here right now!!"
"Ohhh, you little piece of- you know what, sometimes I wish you weren't even ON the team! It's not like you're good for anything!"
These were fighting words.
XR stared at her with huge, shocked eyes. Mira kept going, unable to stop herself. "Booster and Buzz both pull their weight, but all you ever do is sit around and think of new ways to get attention! This isn't daycare, XR! This is the space rangers!"
He sputtered for a minute, then scowled. Later Mira would remember exactly how he looked... especially the way his eyes flashed red briefly just as he started to turn away, almost like an omen.
"Fine then! You don't want me around, I'll do this mission on my own!"
And he sped off around the corner. Mira gasped, then grit her teeth and began to march after him.
"Oho, no you don't! I'm not going to just sit around and watch you throw temper tantrums, XR! Now come back here and-"
She was cut off by a sudden scream. It happened incredibly fast- when she turned the corner, he was gone.
She stood there for a minute, shocked into stillness, her mouth hanging open in disbelief.
There was nowhere he could have gone, no open manhole he could have fallen into- the alley was a dead end.
"XR?" she called, then whipped around and surveyed the street behind her. Maybe she'd mistaken the direction he'd gone in-
But no. There was nothing there.
Mira grit her teeth determinedly. He had to be somewhere.
She strode off into the dark, calling.
It was half an hour later when Mira finally realized- XR was gone. She called Buzz and Booster together and they combed the streets of Tradeworld for hours.
XR groaned. He slowly opened his eyes and was greeted by darkness. Pitch-black nothing.
That didn't seem right, usually he himself generated enough light to see by. He frowned. Something was fishy in Denmark, or whatever that phrase was. And he should know, after all, he was a space ranger.
He tried sitting up. The room spun. He moaned and held a hand to his helmet. He felt groggy and out of it, like his battery had just been drained. But that shouldn't be possible, he hadn't even really done anything but yell at Mira on their last mission, and his battery could normally last for weeks.
Not remembering how he got here in and of itself wouldn't have been cause for alarm, he was used to, well, passing out on missions but if he wasn't in the science bay afterwards, well, that was ominous. Where was he, then, Zurg's lair? Or-
A sharp twinge at the base of his helmet caused him to jump. Wincing, he reached up to the area of the pang. He fingered his helmet, feeling over his smooth metal torso-
He froze. Not smooth. Broken. There was a hole here... a little hole…
No. Two holes.
Two little holes.
He frowned. Well, that was strange. Whatever could have...
Suddenly little fragments of memory began to swim up from his subconscious like coins glinting underwater. He squinted into the darkness. The memories were only hazy but they were disturbing. Something had happened to him long ago... something terrible... he remembered the cold feel of claws, the swish of fabric around his ankles... standing in Star Command's science bay with a hazy, delirious feeling... being out all alone on a dark, cold night on a distant planet, then watching... fireworks? sparklers? bigger, maybe an explosion- watching it with a feeling of twisted glee. All of it made him feel cold and prickly all over, even though not all of the memories seemed negative in and of themselves.
Something was wrong here. Very wrong.
"Hello, little one. So nice to see you up."
He gasped sharply. Wait. No. No. He knew that voice. That teasing voice. No.
Eyes wide, he slowly turned. Glaring out of the dark were two red eyes, one a sinister slit, the other wide, round, staring. ALWAYS staring.
He yelped and scrambled backwards, eyes bulging. "AAH! No! No it can't be you're dead YOU'RE DEAD-"
"Come to me…"
The voice was teasing him, mocking him. Making fun of him and his fear. XR tried to scramble to his feet but couldn't. He couldn't get up. He tried sending out a distress signal. That didn't work either. He wasn't working, oh mother of Venus-
The red eyes came closer, bearing down on him.
"No, no no no…" Through the panicked haze over his senses XR wondered if he was truly making the noise, or just imagining he was. That would be just his luck.
Sharp metallic claws seized his arm. A perverse laugh echoed through the air. Red eyes lowered to his level.
He tried to scream, but nothing would come out. Then there was a sharp tug in his chest and his world abruptly shut off.