Chapter 3

Just Another (Unintended) Stroll through the Park

Warning: Adult Language (Hunter starts dropping some F-bombs. It's just what he does).

Epitome of thanks to my two beta's the real vampire and Rogue Ranger for being proof-reading wizards. And content wizards. And just all-around fabulousness. It is much appreciated.


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They eventually managed to find Dustin's bike, which was good.

They also managed to find a secure location that could be easily found and was adequate for housing all of their bikes while they went to return the "borrowed" (stolen) Quantum Defender, which was also good.

The moment things ceased to be good was the moment they attempted to make it into Silver Hills the-actual-city as opposed to Silver Hills that-large-area-of-trees/forest/mountain-caves-that-just-happened-to-congregate-on-the-outskirts-of-town (also rumored to house the Q-Rex, these rumors derived from two years worth of late-night theories shared between the two Bradley brothers). Because as luck would have it (or not; Hunter's belief because Dustin had just come upon a miraculous streak of good fortune so it was only logical for fate to come and kick them in the balls) the very act of leaving the city they were supposed to be protecting was something that Marah and Kapri found to be the most interesting thing in the world. And the only logical way to respond to this interest was to investigate it. You know, with robots, and kelzaks, and a big, fluffy, pink monster-thing that looked like a cross between and airplane and a gorilla which was, by unanimous decision, two things that should never be combined. Just for future reference.

Hunter was sort of hating his life right now. Screw it if he never met Eric Meyers, he would rather not be running around with a possible fugitive. Seriously, Dustin needed to stop accidentally committing crimes. There were limits you know.

So they ended up fighting, and then they ended up morphing and then they ended up unmorphing and then, of all things, they ended up running because for some stupid reason they couldn't figure out how to undo the freaking emergency blocker (which should be as simple as hit the button again) so they couldn't call for back up and they were kind've getting hammered so-

There was no shame in making a tactical retreat.

This was the steady mantra Hunter had to keep repeating over and over again as airplane/gorilla hurled ancient and perfectly innocent trees at them, or worse, hurled them into some perfectly innocent trees. So now they were demorphed and on the run (no shame-no shame- no shame) and looking for a nice place to hide out, to keep safe until the idiot sisters accidentally blew themselves up or something and then they could return the stupid gun and Hunter could go home and spend a couple hours yelling at Cam for the "inefficiency of his stupid equipment" which would be total poetic justice for the time the green ranger had ragged on Hunter for screwing up the Tsunami cycles. Honestly, he had just been trying to help which was perfectly reasonable and he would show Cam what it was like to be an unforgivable douchebag on the road of good intentions.

But…sidetracked. Yes, he was getting sidetracked.

It was running time.

"Up ahead," Blake breathed over the com, relief evident in his voice. Hunter hadn't really seen either of his teammates in the past few minutes. Dustin was an occasional blur in his peripheral and Blake must have taken point; more agile and better at dodging the airplane/gorilla's tree attacks.

"What is it?" Hunter managed to get out and then hey- tree in face, and the next few seconds were spent reacquainting his feet with the tree branches they were streaking through, Dustin making an unintelligible sound of concern as the crimson ranger reoriented himself.

"I'm fine," the blond huffed, even if his ribs did not agree with that statement. "Blake, what have we got?"

"Either a shallow crack in the mountain or a secret entrance to a cave, from here it's about sixty-forty chance."

"Is the sixty on the good option?" Dustin asked, and this time Hunter could see him flip away as a tree whirled past him, slamming into more innocent, bystanding trees.

"Sure," Blake replied, drawing the word out because he clearly did not believe in this answer and Dustin sighed or huffed or like, made a sad noise only Dustin would make while their murders were becoming less hypothetical and more immediate.

Hunter frowned. "Just give us a direction and everyone shadow battle their way to it, okay?"

Yes, he knew that wasn't normally how they rolled-

"But what are we battling?" Dustin asked, confused.

"The air, the leaves, I don't care just get over there without being seen!" Hunter winced; he definitely had some bruised ribs going on. Damn, he hated those. "Everyone clear?"

Twin calls of "Roger" was their immediate response.

Without further prodding Blake went ahead and gave them the crack/cave's (okay, that shouldn't be funny, but seriously, crack cave, druggie's paradise) position: two o'clock hidden behind some massive shrubbery.

Hunter gave the cue, initiating the ninja shadow battle (harder, damn, he had gotten too used to doing this morphed; he was going soft) and was immediately gratified to find that yes, there was a crack in the side of the mountain (from his viewpoint that had been hypothetical at best; had to rely on Blake completely, not that he didn't just- it was nice) and yes, it did lead to a cave and YES, they successfully managed to escape the ding-bat duo plus entourage and hiding and recovering and bashing the hell out of the emergency com-block button (yes, he knew it wouldn't help; he was doing it anyway) could now be enjoyed by all.

"Further in," Hunter muttered, motioning to his two compatriots to continue deeper into the crack/cave (still funny) despite the dwindling light. They could handle the darkness but, if Marah and Kapri managed to track them down, they would not only have limited mobility, they would literally have their backs to the wall whenever they ran out of cave to explore. Best to get away from the light for now, sit tight and regroup. After that he could figure out the next course of action.

Of course, this was all before the floor decided to give out from under them, and it was a straight drop down the twenty foot rabbit hole, ending with rocks, rocks, and yes- more rocks in uncomfortable places, and more scratches and bruises and ribs that were not pleased, no sir, they were not.

Hunter honestly shouldn't have been surprised by how quickly things had devolved. It had been a simple trip. He and Blake were going to meet one of their idols and yes, yes he could even say that with complete seriousness and not a shred of sarcasm because Eric Meyers was awesome and that should never be forgotten. He worked on his own while the other rangers were- well, anyway, now was not the time for this because he could honestly go on and on and on-

"Dude." This came from Dustin, voice disbelieving but coherent (good, no head injuries) and when Hunter turned his head to give the yellow ranger's physical condition a once over he realized that it was a lot easier than it should have been, being that…well, they were supposed to be in the dark.

And at the moment there was an undeniable, slightly ominous red glow bathing over the three of them.

He didn't want to do it. Hunter didn't want to turn his head and look at whatever Dustin was looking at because this day was too weird, even by their standards and if he turned his head that would only invite doom and misfortune and more weirdness to be piled onto their day and Hunter didn't want that, he didn't want that at all. Right now he only wanted some ice cream and maybe to pass out on the Ninja Ops couch while Tori and Blake argued over the worst qualities of the movie they were watching and Dustin and Shane chucked popcorn at each other while Cam made disapproving noises and Hunter mocked them all unceasingly, or at the very least until one of them gave up and re-filled his ice cream bowl.

Those were good times. Those were happy times.

And once Hunter turned his head, he would gleefully stab Eric Meyers in the neck to return to those happy times and pretend none of this had ever happened.

The source of light was unmistakable; two gigantic narrowed eyes that Hunter and Blake were far too familiar with to ever think of mistaking with another zord.

Behold mere mortals, for here stands the Q-Rex in all its metallic, heavily- weaponized glory.

"Seriously?" Hunter asked, to no one in particular, maybe the universe.

His brother, curse him, gave as enthusiastic a cheer as he could manage after falling onto a pile of rocks. "I knew it," Blake laughed and yep, there it was, the happy I-know-things dance, limited to one arm and some cheerful head bobbing because, you know, rocks.

"Dude," Dustin called, also enthusiastic, and they exchanged high fives, completely oblivious to the badness that could fall upon them.

Did the Q-Rex have some kind of security mode for things like this? Did it think they were just random civilians? Would it leave them alone? Would it be upset for finding its hiding place? Did it have some kind of hook-up to the Quantum ranger that would make him recognize Dustin and then they could possibly be taken off to jail or-

Hunter sighed, flopping his head back against his cushion of dirt and rubble. "I hate everyone who's not me."

He honestly did.

Dustin turned towards him, bottom lip jutting out in that subconscious, you-have-desperately-wounded-me way that was more than effective for bringing on the guilt. "Dude," he murmured, obviously hurt, and Hunter's jaw clenched.

"Say something else."

It wasn't Dustin's fault, he really shouldn't- these things happened. And it wasn't nice and it wasn't fair but it happened. Just- it happened to them a little more often than it should. Hunter could complain about that right? There should be a limit.

Dustin, who had become accustomed to Hunter-time, shook off his discomfort as quickly as usual, turning his attention back to the giant metal dinosaur that was giving them an undeniable stink eye. "Well uh…do you think he recognizes the gun?"

No, because it's in your backpack-

But instead of saying this (because maybe that thing could hear and reason and he didn't want to get dino-cannoned) Hunter gave Dustin a baffled look. "What?"

Dustin shrugged. "Like, I could sense the morphing energy right?" Right, Dustin had said something about that whenever he first got the Quantum Defender. "Well, couldn't the zord sense we have the gun? Since they're like, used by the same guy?"

Like they were all part of the same system. Cam had said something about that once, how the zords and the tsunami cycles all ran off of the Wind/Thunder power so they could all be recognized by each other, so if the Q-Rex and the Q-Defender-

Distantly, Hunter seemed to recall that the Quantum Ranger didn't actually pilot the Q-Rex, he just told it what to do, but even without his input it was perfectly capable of choosing its own course of action because it was sentient and-

They were so screwed.

As though hearing Dustin, and it probably did, check the sentience thing, the Q-Rex leaned forward and stared them down, like it had just become aware of a certain fascinating tidbit that could have something to do with his ranger.

Blake, impressively enough, did not swallow at the zord's posturing, though by his tone Hunter could tell he really wanted to. "…Do you think he'll be friendly about it?"

And that was the cue, it seemed, for Q-Rex to throw his head back and roar; an ear-splitting, cave-rattling, you-are-going-to-die-now roar, and the three ninjas set off like rockets, pulling their limbs out of loose rocks and dirt and shooting towards the lower opening of the cave, this huge, monstrous towering thing of a tunnel that the Q-Rex must use for access. They ran like there was no tomorrow, probably because if they didn't there wouldn't be, and wasn't that philosophical? Hunter would write that down if breathing wasn't becoming such a damn issue.

To his credit, Dustin did sound mildly abashed as he gave Blake his answer while once more ducking and weaving through the trees as they escaped a new enemy, "Doesn't look like it."

So the Q-Rex didn't like thieves. No fucking shit.

Hunter groaned and held back a wince, keeping the other two rangers in eyesight and counting down the seconds until their morphers would be recharged and ready for another go.

He grit his teeth, bitterly repeating, "Everyone who's not me."

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Wes watched as Eric all but pouted in his corner of the room, the Quantum ranger steadfastly refusing to put forth any contribution to mission "Calling on the major players" (and yes, Wes had named it, look at him being all clever (or not clever, which would annoy Eric the most)).

What Eric failed to realize was that if he had at least tried to call some of the past teams he could have dissuaded at least half of them from coming through pure gruffness and underdeveloped social skills. He would have missed all conversational cues. He would have ordered in that militaristic way he always ordered and most of the rangers (Except for Carter, and probably Andros, who were more helpless than Eric was), mission or not, would have hung up on him.

With Eric standing out of the way the weight of the calling was left to Wes, who had learned a thing or two about networking and the power of a well-versed "pleasant" voice. So far he had only met with success.

He hit up Leo first, who promised to call Andros and then he contacted Carter while Justin attempted to track down the old Zeo and Ninjetti rangers, all of whom still possessed active morphers. The Lightspeed Team was closest and would be in Silver Hills by the end of the day and Leo had sworn up and down that the Space teams would be Earthside by the next day at the latest.

Justin had the most trouble, surprisingly enough, since the earlier ranger teams were spread out all over the country. Ten minutes in he gave up and deigned that Tommy's problem, deciding that three teams of rangers would be more than enough for what they needed, so it didn't really matter if they showed up at all (and based on the way he vindictively smashed at his keyboard while explaining this, Wes got the feeling the kid wasn't all that fond of those guys anyway. Some unresolved issues, right there).

The only team unaccounted for was the current one, the uh…ninja team, that was it, over in Blue Bay Harbor. Justin was focusing his efforts on their part of the morpher net, trying to figure out some way to contact them. With all the old teams accounted for, it had to be one of the rookie's that was missing or blocked or…well, Wes didn't want to make any assumptions. New or not, a ranger was a ranger, and the faster Justin hacked into their network (Wes didn't bother to ask how he discovered there was a ninja network, let alone how he would get into it) the faster they could solve this baby and give everyone some peace of mind.

Now, Wes wasn't an expert but uh…based on the borderline-murderous look Justin was giving his computer screen, the ninja network hacking was not going as swimmingly as he had hoped. There was definitely some muttering going down over in the kid's general direction, followed by some rapid typing and some side-screen hitting and some fist shaking and-

Honestly, Wes was impressed at the range of expressions the kid could demonstrate from his position hunched over his laptop; even Eric had taken a break from sulking to watch the show in mild fascination.

"What the hell-what the hell-what the hell," the kid muttered, tugging at his hair in frustration, "I can't get a lock on-"

"You can't hack it?"

Wes regretted the words as soon as they were out of his mouth, wishing they were physical items he could pull out of the air and shove back into his brain because the pure look of venom he received in return promised many and much hells to pay as soon as Justin was done decimating his computer fiend.

Honestly, what did he know about computers? Was it nothing? Oh yeah, yep, it was pretty much nothing.

And Justin was well aware of this fact.

"Oh, I can hack it," the kid promised, pulling his glare away from Wes as he turned back towards his laptop. "It's just going to take longer than it should but I'm going to hack it. If I have to stay up all night, if I have to hunt down the bastards myself I. Will. Find. It. And then I will kick some ass because-"

He stopped mid-sentence, hands hovering above the keyboard as his eyebrows drew together in a perfect picture of befuddlement, temperament going from hot to curious in a matter of a second.

The fact that it took more than a second, more than a few seconds, going on thirty, going on a minute, for Justin to snap out of it was something that greatly worried Wes. Watching the kid in frozen contemplation, his mind processing and attempting to compute what was, to Wes' knowledge, something he had a complete mastery of couldn't prelude any kind of happiness for them. Throwing the Sensei for a curveball required doing something completely out of the box, or something just…well, awful, and based on the past few days they'd had…

Wes had an unpleasant feeling that whatever the kid was staring at was not going to be particularly pleasant for him or Eric.

"Eric," the kid said at last, tapping his finger against the laptop's screen like he was confirming the existence of something. "Did you by chance call the Q-Rex out to play?"

Eric huffed, opened his mouth for a snappy retort and paused, shutting it, realizing that the rhetorical nature of the question and what it indicated, because if what Justin was seeing was "the Q-Rex out to play"

Eric was at the kid's side in a flash, leaning over the younger man's shoulder at the indicated portion of the screen, a dot, far larger than the others, plowing through the Silver Hills Forest.

"He's out?"

"Who called him?"

Came Wes and Eric's twin questions, simultaneous and panicking because seriously, this was their day, this wasn't the beginning of something big or perhaps could lead to some wicked master plan, this was legitimate, Q-Rex acting on his own, still on map, perceiving some kind of threat.

"You two better get out there," Justin murmured, but he needn't have bothered because Eric was already out the door, heading outside the building to call on the TF Eagle and figure out what the hell was going on. Wes was half a step behind him, planning to catch a ride on the Eagle's wing, and wondering for the fiftieth time that day just what the hell was going on.

If this was the kind of crap the new ranger team had to deal with, then Wes wished the best of luck to them.

He did not like where this was going.

He did not like this at all.

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Cyber Cam persisted in making himself a proper nuisance all morning, pouting over his inability to contact Dustin and the Bradley brothers. He had earned his fate and Cam was acutely aware of this, though his actions alone did not justify the countermeasures Hunter (he was ringleader, of this Cam was certain) had decided to exercise. The signal blockers were still in beta-testing, and while Cam knew the science behind them was solid, he was…fearful of the execution.

Truth be told, he had shafted the signal blocking project in preference of other upgrades: power spheres, the teleporter, and Zord enhancements. The blockers themselves had been more of an academic foray motivated by intellectual curiosity, a practice to see how familiar he was with the actual morphers and morphing energy. His end goal was to come to a full understanding of the morpher's components to perhaps, one day, create a set of his own. Should the need ever arise.

But that was all…theoretical, to be studied at a later date. For now Cam would take small steps, carefully gathering data, and maybe make the mistake of sharing functions that were not thoroughly tested to a couple of imbeciles who just assumed whatever Cam put out would function perfectly.

He was flattered by their unyielding (and for the most part, well placed) faith in his abilities.

He was indescribably pissed they had wasted his hard work in what was definitely not an emergency situation.

Cyber Cam would get no sympathies from his creator, nor would the three idiots (affectionately named) that were wasting time on a field trip when they inevitably broke something they couldn't fix and were unable to contact Cam because of their own ineptitude.

And Cam had (no honestly, he had, he was not agonizing over this) pushed all thoughts of the three rogue rangers out of his mind. He did not care what happened to them; surely they were not so incompetent they couldn't return a gun. Hunter had enough steady threats from the rest of the team for Dustin's safe return or the hell to be paid upon failure of this; no threats necessary for Blake, that was self motivated, and after those two were taken care of Cam honestly didn't care about Hunter's condition (which was a sentiment that was greatly returned, if not instigated by the other party).

With that worry out of mind (yes, it was, he refused to waste anymore time on it), and Cyber Cam's constant whining cut off upon threat of permanent muting, both Cam and his Cyber duplicate were aware enough to be able to detect an attempted breach of the Ninja Ops system.

It was…to be perfectly frank, the first attack of this nature. Not that Cam was unprepared; he and Cyber Cam guarded their system fiercely on the off-hand chance Lothor got someone who was technologically gifted, and even before that had become a theoretical threat, the idea of a civilian accidentally stumbling upon their network…

That would be unacceptable.

They warded it off easily enough; between Cyber Cam's raw power and the green ranger's ability to perceive and adapt to the would-be intruder's attacks (and there were multiple, and this did worry him) the Ninja Ops network remained unbreached.

When the hacking attempts continued and their countermeasures appeared to be insufficient at dissuading the intruder's efforts, Cam called on Shane and Tori to make their way towards Ninja Ops.

There was the beginnings of something bigger here. Something they should get prepared for.

They had work to do.


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Endnotes:

I know, this chapter's a little um…expository? But it gets better next time, cross my heart. (And by better, I mean Hunter gets grumpier, and it is absolutely faboo).

Thanks to Heaven's Archer for reviewing last chapter! I'm glad it made you laugh. Extracting laughter = life's super joy.

So Rogue pointed out that the Bradley bros sort of have a fixation on Eric being the bee-eist of knees while Wes is pretty much chopped liver. His exact words were:

"Why is Eric so much better than Wes? "Oh, that Eric, he's so dreamy! Oh, yeah, and that Wes guy is okay too, but he doesn't have a dino gun and he never got sick. Unlike Eric…and his studliness…" *thunders swoon*"

And really, I just can't think of a better explanation than that.

(Except that maybe they relate to his struggle more or (maybe just maybe Eric is my most favorite of the two, *not blatant favoritism*))

Until next time!