"And where do ye think you're goin'?"
Ziggy's stealth prowess was obviously rusty. How else could he explain being found out before he even got to the door? Shameful, really. Two and a half months ago, he'd have been long since ghosted if he hadn't been able to avoid detection.
Admittedly, with Dillon gone he never expected someone to be awake in these wee hours of the morning.
The garage flooded with light, sudden enough that Ziggy had to lift an arm to shield his eyes. They adjusted quickly enough, which revealed Flynn standing at the top of the stairs. His arm around Gemma's shoulders at least explained why he was awake. Ziggy felt a brief moment of guilt for disrupting their night before remembering that they were the ones interrupting him.
"Oh, um. You know, just taking a walk. Fresh morning air, clear my head."
"I'm pretty sure at two-thirty it's still considered night air." Flynn started down the stairs. He had his eyes fixed on Ziggy, and so while Ziggy considered making a break for it, he knew deep down his plan was already shot, or at least well delayed.
"You're probably right." Defeated, Ziggy stepped back towards his former team mates, his eyes darting around for any hint that their commotion was raising K. Gemma would understand his intentions immediately, the bigger problem convincing her not to come along. Flynn was logical enough, Ziggy was sure he could explain himself satisfactorily. But if K woke up, there would be no chance.
"Where are you off to, Zig?" Flynn's ever-observant eyes had caught Ziggy's bag slung over his shoulder. It was obviously full, and not the sort of thing anyone would bring along on a nighttime stroll.
Ziggy spread his hands. He had learned during his year as a Ranger that honesty was usually the best policy. "Dillon."
Flynn obviously wasn't expecting that. He glanced at Gemma, whose eyes had lit up at the thought. She turned a wide smile towards Flynn, who returned her glance doubtfully.
"He's back? They're back?" She asked. Ziggy shook his head.
"No. Um. Here, come here." Ziggy moved across the garage to K's office, and the other two followed after him.
Most of the security measures the doors had once held were deactivated, it was after all no longer the Ranger Room but simply a laboratory. It still took a press of his first two fingers and a scan of their prints to open the door. K was nothing if not rightfully paranoid.
"They've been sending us messages, you know. Every two days, like clock work." Ziggy explained as he crossed to K's computer, booting it up with a number of practiced motions. It was really more an instrument than a tool.
"Aye." He moved closer to stand just behind Ziggy, who leaned over the interface, three keyboards wide plus a handful of more interactive inputs. He entered a few passwords and pulled up a sound file.
"This is the last one we got." Ziggy said, adjusting the volume so as not to wake K and playing the sound file. It was slightly distorted, riddled with static, but recognizable as Summer's voice. Gemma gripped Flynn's arm, her smile slowly fading.
"Transmission thirty-three, two-thousand eight hundred and eighty seven miles out from Corinth. Things aren't looking good. We're approaching the West Coast. There's something out here. Dillon went off by himself to investigate. We're going after him. Keep us in your thoughts, Doctor. Whatever is out here, it's not Venjix. It's worse. Operator Yellow out."
"That's ominous." Flynn admitted. Gemma moved away from him, and around Ziggy to his other side, leaning over to scroll through the files they'd been sent. "But they're Rangers. Even without their morphers, Summer can handle herself, and Tenaya and Dillon..."
"Oh no." Gemma turned to fix Flynn with a hard look.
"What?" Flynn frowned. "What is it?"
"This was two weeks ago." Ziggy answered for her. He hefted his bag back over his shoulder. "Two weeks and we haven't heard anything since. It's... They're out there, far away with no help."
Flynn's eyes widened with realization. "You can't be serious, Zig."
"Someone's got to go help them."
Gemma was halfway out the lab before Flynn caught her around the waist, hauling her back. "Gemma..."
"I'll go tell Scott!" She struggled against his grip. "Eagle Squadron will go, we'll get there faster than anyone..."
"We can't get all of Eagle Squad tangled up in this." Ziggy said. "Someone's got to stay! Defend the city."
Gemma's face fell, she gave Ziggy a perfectly heartbreaking look. "You're leaving us behind?"
Ziggy flailed slightly. This wasn't following with his plans at all. "No. I mean, yes. I'm leaving everyone."
Flynn shook his head. "And how d'ye think you were gonna get all th' way out there on yer own?" His accent got thicker when he was agitated, it was all the more noticeable now. "On yer scooter?"
"I was going to find a ride." Ziggy growled, somewhat defensively.
Flynn moved quickly. He spun Gemma around and grabbed her by the arms to pull her close, giving her a serious kiss. Ziggy could tell by the dazed look on her face when he pulled away that they hadn't exactly kissed like that yet. Ziggy's chest ached, because he knew what was coming next.
"Flynn..." Ziggy said warningly.
"You've got one."
"Flynn, no..." Gemma sounded pained.
"A ride. Come on. Put your stuff in the truck and give me five minutes to pack."
"I'll be fine." Ziggy floundered, losing ground fast. Gemma gripped Flynn's hand for a second in a crush that left his fingertips red, and then she was gone, out the garage so fast she might have teleported.
With Flynn driving, they were out of Corinth before three.
"You didn't tell the Doc." Flynn said softly.
Ziggy looked out the window, craning his neck to watch the dome-shaped framework surrounding Corinth fade into the distance. Riding in Flynn's truck was entirely different from the Fury. Worry for Dillon overwhelmed him for a moment. "I left a note."
"That'll go over like a lead brick." Flynn said sensibly.
"You're mixing metaphors." Ziggy shot back.
Dillon didn't often experience deja vu. His memories only covered the past year and a half, and that time had been unique in a pretty big way. Nothing often reminded him of anything else.
But this. It was deja vu, as best as he could understand it. Leaning over a car with something pressed under his left shoulder blade. Only this time, it wasn't his own beloved Fury but a multicolored monstrosity that was as much rust as paint. Plus whoever it was behind him was more than likely actually wielding a blaster, and not a rusted muffler.
And it certainly wasn't Ziggy.
Dillon snorted, then took a deep breath.
"Why don't you take a step away from the car, stranger. Slowly, now," the voice continued.
The breath didn't do its job of calming Dillon down, so he did the stranger one better. Spinning around, he struck hard and fast with his right arm, catching the stranger across the wrist. He turned his strike into a grab at the last moment, grasping the stranger's arm and directing the blaster down and away, so when it inevitably discharged all it hit was dust.
"Fuck!" The stranger cursed, reeling back to pull his arm from Dillon's grip. Dillon didn't let go so easily, and they both struggled wildly to keep their footing and try to gain the upper hand.
"I'm not going to hurt you," Dillon growled. The stranger fought to get his bright yellow blaster back up to aim, so Dillon swept his legs out from under him, knocking him into the dust and landing on top of him, using one hand to pin his wrist and keep him from getting a clear shot.
Now he could get a look at his attacker, even as he fought like an animal to get free. His hair was an almost comical shade of red, and it didn't much compliment his dirty ensemble that seemed to be centered around his jacket, which was primarily blue.
"Ghoul!" The redhead screamed, his odd nasally voice somewhat grating at this volume. "Ghoul, you useless son-of-a-bitch!"
Dillon shifted his grip, his robotic enhanced strength made tearing the yellow blaster out of his hand an easy job, and once the attacker was unarmed, Dillon stood up. Keeping the blaster safely out of arm's reach in his left hand, he held out his right hand to the stranger, who refused the offer, scrambling to his feet and grumbling to himself as he dusted himself off. Dillon heard every word.
"Idiot. Worst lookout fucking ever. Knew I should have brought Jet. This is ridiculous. And who the fuck are you, anyway?"
This last bit was directed at Dillon, who muscled up a smile. "My name's Dillon. I don't want to hurt you. I was just checking out..."
"My car," the redhead spat.
"You call that a car?" The insult was out of Dillon's mouth before he even thought better about it.
Dillon ducked when the stranger came after him, lifting an arm to block his wide swing, turning it into a hold just about the stranger's elbow and using his own momentum against him, throwing him over Dillon's shoulder. It was a reflex Dillon had developed in fighting scores of identical robots. Of course, the robots rarely got up after being slammed into the ground so hard, leaving Dillon at a slight disadvantage when the red haired stranger immediately kicked out, catching Dillon right behind the knee and knocking him off balance.
They both regained their footing, now Dillon had his back to the desert and the stranger was backed by his car. They squared off again, the stranger's eyes darting around like he was expecting reinforcements to arrive, which he probably was.
"Can we stop fighting?" Dillon asked.
The stranger hesitated, but he did drop his feeble attempt at a fighting stance. "You've got the ray gun, man. I guess if you were planning on ghosting me, you'd have done it already."
Dillon shrugged, and considered handing the blaster over as a show of good faith, but he hadn't been a Ranger for a year without learning something. He'd had a few too many of his own weapons, friends, not to mention appendages, used against him.
"You got a name?" Dillon asked, electing to just hold the blaster out to his side instead of aiming it anywhere.
"They call me Party Poison."
Dillon raised an eyebrow and restricted the impulse to laugh. "That's not a name."
"Well, it's all you're going to get."
Dillon shrugged again."Fine. I didn't mean any harm. Your, uh... car, here, it looked abandoned. I'm low on gas myself, thought I'd check it out. But seeing as it's been claimed, I'll be on my way."
"Like hell. Who are you? What are you doing out in the Zones? And if you're number five, where are one through four?"
"You're inquisitive." Dillon's Operator coat had been practically a part of him for literally as long as he could remember. He'd almost forgotten that it had his operator number emblazoned on the back. The reminder was welcome. He made up his mind and held the blaster out, grip first. Party Poison grabbed it quickly and returned it to a holster strapped around his thigh.
"Do I get any in return?"
Dillon snorted. "On what?"
"On whether we like your answers."
Dillon almost let his face betray his surprise. He half-turned, addressing the newcomer dressed in army green and yellow, with a bright green blaster aimed at him.
He considered his options. He could take two people, even armed, but he didn't exactly want to fight the first people he'd seen in five-hundred miles of open desert. He slowly held up his hands in a posture of surrender.
"My name is Dillon." He repeated for the benefit of the newcomer. It might not be one-hundred percent truth, but he figured a guy called Party Poison wouldn't care to hear about how Dillon didn't know his real name. "If this desert is the Zones, I'm just doing some... exploring."
Party Poison frowned. Not a great answer, but close enough to the truth.
"Number Three is with me, and I should probably get back to her, sooner rather than later. The others... aren't here. What about you?"
"What about us?"
Dillon turned his head to look at the other man. "What's your name?"
It wasn't much better than Party Poison, but Dillon figured he wasn't in a position to judge, having spent a good long while addressed primarily as Ranger Operator Series Black.
Dillon hoped his willingness to answer questions was winning him some points, as Fun Ghoul moved to stand beside Party Poison. He didn't even flinch when Party Poison punched him in the arm.
"And where the fuck were you, anyway? Some look out you turned out to be, asshole."
Fun Ghoul shrugged. "You handled it."
"I was lucky. Could have been a Drac. An Exterminator! Do you even care?"
Fun Ghoul looked affronted. "Of course I care! I don't want to see anyone getting ghosted."
"Could have been you." Party Poison said softly. "We go in pairs for a reason, Ghoul. Deal with it."
"I get it. Can we move on from the reprimand and figure out what we're going to do with our guest here?"
Party Poison gave Dillon a once over. "You said you had someone with you?"
Fun Ghoul and Party Poison exchanged a glance. "Take 'em to Doctor D?"
Dillon perked up at this. "Doctor D?"
"You heard of him? You got an antenna in this supposed car of yours?" Party Poison glanced around like he expected Dillon's car to materialize to prove its own existence.
"Yeah." Dillon shrugged.
"Doctor Death Defying. He's the voice of the Zones. Broadcasts twenty-four seven so long as he's not running from place to place with the rest of us."
"Running from what?"
Party Poison and Fun Ghoul exchanged another glance, this one riddled with disbelieving undertones.
"You really don't know?"
"Exterminators. Draculoids. Patrols out from Battery City."
Dillon blinked, but otherwise remained impassive. His mind, however, started turning at an incredible speed. What were these people even talking about? What was Battery City? Was it like Corinth? Why would anyone run away from a safe haven? Though they called these people they were running from Exterminators, which sounded a lot worse than Grinders, and not much better than Killbots.
"If you're willing to take us, I'd like to meet this Doctor of yours." He said carefully.
"He's not, like, a medical doctor." Fun Ghoul said, like he figured that was what Dillon was after.
Dillon thought of Doctor K. "No, I didn't think so."
"Where's your car?" Party Poison asked.
Dillon turned to judge his position. "I hiked out of the sun right after it rose, and I didn't vary my path too much. So due East, give or take, couple miles at least."
Party Poison nodded, then gestured at his own car. "Get in."
Fun Ghoul took the passenger seat and they were barely moving before he started fiddling with the radio controls, tuning it to a thrashy punk song. "Doc's up."
"Good. Hand radio's dead, so we'll be showing up uninvited and unannounced. "
"But never unwelcome." Fun Ghoul said, turning around in his seat to flash Dillon a pretty shit-eating grin.
The Fury came into sight sooner than Dillon expected. He couldn't see the gauges, had no idea how fast Party Poison was driving.
Summer was standing away from the car, she looked nervous even from this distance. Tenaya must still be in the car. Her implants had started to go out about a week ago. It ached when he looked at her and saw how she struggled to focus on things right in front of her. His instinct to protect her had sky-rocketed, which was why he'd insisted he go out to investigate by himself.
Party Poison swung the car into a relatively neat parallel park with the Fury and got out in almost the same moment as Fun Ghoul. Summer took a step back, falling into a defensive stance. Dillon followed Fun Ghoul out of the passenger side door and Summer seemed to relax, but Dillon hadn't fought beside her for a year and some-odd months for nothing. He could tell she didn't trust his two erstwhile companions, and he respected her for that.
"Dillon." She said quietly, turning to keep Party Poison in her line of sight as he slowly circled the Fury, a slight scowl on his face that Dillon chose to read as jealousy. Maybe it was pride in his car, maybe it was even misplaced, but he though their car looked pretty pitiful beside a real machine like the Fury.
"Hey." Dillon greeted Summer with a one armed hug, then opened the driver's side door of the Fury. Tenaya turned towards him, smiling, but her eyes were blank and unfocused, and his heart, even as tainted as it was with robotic implants, skipped a beat.
"Hi, little sister." Neither of them had any idea whether he was older, but the words sounded right whenever he spoke them. More right then Tenaya, anyway, which still held a hint of mechanical unfamiliarity.
She shifted, reaching by muscle memory for the door handle, but he reached across, placing a hand on her arm. "Stay put, okay? We're going somewhere in a minute."
"Alright." She turned her head and Dillon leaned back out of the car and stood straight to fix Fun Ghoul with a serious stare. Fun Ghoul took a step back from where he'd stood, kicking one of the Fury's tires.
"Fun Ghoul." He said, managing not to smirk as the silly name slid past his lips. "This is Summer, and in there is my sister, Tenaya." He pointed at Party Poison, who had retreated to his own car, waiting for them. "That's, ah, Party Poison. We're going to go with them to meet a friend of theirs and figure out what's going on out here." He didn't bother adding 'and see what we can do to help'. It was perfectly well implied.
"Alright." Summer didn't seem too enthusiastic, but then, somewhere around the middle of the country, even the super-activist Yellow Ranger had begun to miss home, and wanted to go back. See her friends and family, see how Corinth was weathering the aftermath.
"You wanna follow me?" Party Poison asked in the exact same moment as Dillon said, "So I guess I'll follow you?" They smirked at one another, then Party Poison jerked his head, signaling for Fun Ghoul to climb in.
Summer crawled into the back seat of the Fury, and Dillon followed her, relishing the familiar feel of the seat, the comforting roar of the engine as he started her up.
Party Poison was leaning out his window, a cocky grin on his face. "Try and keep up."
Dillon smirked. He could beat Scott's souped up sports car in a drag race any day of the week. Keeping up with this heap, which looked more like a disturbed child's coloring book than a car, was no problem. "I'll do my best. "
Party Poison gunned his engine and shot forward, and Dillon followed tight on his tail.
The desert crawling strangers drove erratically, swerving occasionally for no real reason Dillon could see, though their pattern brought to mind classic evasive maneuvers, as if they expected to be shot at in any moment. He wondered if paranoia directed the wheel or if they had a legitimate reason to be worried.
Turned out that this time, either Party Poison was overreacting, or they were just plain lucky, because they didn't run into any problems, and after maybe an hour, right when Dillon was starting to worry whether he had enough gas to make it to wherever they were going, a handful of dark smudges appeared on the horizon, quickly materializing into a small cluster of buildings. He recognized an old-style gas station, and what looked like it had once been a diner, though it was all boarded up and covered in graffiti. It was much like any number of still-standing buildings they'd encountered on their trip across the country, with a single incongruous element.
A vending machine of some sort stood beside the only door that wasn't entirely boarded up, though it had once been glass-paned and now was strategically patched with metal and wood. The machine was stark and gleaming white, and while it was oddly comforting to Dillon, reminding him of Doctor K's lab, he could tell that it was wrong, that it didn't belong outside this artistic graffitied building. And not just because there was a very obvious pictogram of a blaster on one of the vending buttons.
Caught as he was in his examination of the building as he got out of the Fury, he jumped a little, startled when the door that had captured his attention burst open and three young men fanned out, each armed again with a brightly colored blaster.
The first out the door was mostly blonde, noticeably shorter than the other two but not by much, and dressed in a red coat that matched his blaster. The next had a wild mass of uncontrolled brown curls that made Ziggy's hair seem tame by comparison. His blaster was primarily blue, and Dillon, being who he was, immediately questioned whether Party Poison was the leader after all. Red, yellow, blue and green were colors intrinsically linked with a chain of command in his limited memory span.
It took Dillon a second to figure out why the third member of their welcoming party reminded him of Ziggy. He wasn't dressed in green, or even black, far from it in fact. His hair was straight and black, and while he had an attractive, one might even say pretty, face, he wasn't smiling right now, and one thing Ziggy always did, even in the face of imminent danger, was smile. Eventually Dillon noticed how scrawny and yes, young this kid seemed. That was what reminded Dillon of Ziggy, and he suddenly ached for his friend. Dillon had learned to roll with his instinctive need to protect people, and Ziggy had been marvelous at being protected, being such a trouble magnet.
But this boy was aiming a hot pink blaster at him like he might pull a Boom Twin, go all Gem and Gemma and blow him away without even bothering to ask questions, so he probably didn't need protecting. Besides, Dillon had Tenaya, and at a much smaller scale, Summer to worry about right now. Ziggy was perfectly safe back in Corinth, no doubt teaching small children the finer points of how to make your hands cast a shadow in the flawless shape of a turkey. Ziggy was fine.
Ziggy was not fine.
Flynn made an excellent traveling partner, always willing to fill unwanted silence with stories about growing up in Scotland, but also perfectly at ease with driving quietly when it was obvious they both needed some peace.
And the Hummer was nice enough. For being so huge, it was very quiet, no doubt due to Flynn's skills as a mechanic and his obvious care for the vehicle. And it did have space, something the Fury sorely lacked. When they did finally decide that it would be okay to stop and rest for a bit there was room enough for both of them to stretch out right there in the truck.
But even while Flynn immediately fell into a deep slumber that included no small amount of soft snoring, Ziggy would lie awake, worry for Dillon and guilt about not telling K warring his stomach into Gordian knots.
Ziggy shifted around, trying to get comfortable without kicking the back of the seats in front of him. As bad as he felt, he'd feel decidedly worse if he woke Flynn right now. He hadn't wanted to involve any of his friends in this crusade, probably because he knew in his heart that it was most likely hopeless. It was such a large country, he didn't know how he expected them to find Dillon amongst the endless miles of wasteland struggling to recover.
And Flynn had just come along, just like that, unquestioning and loyal and so... blue. Ziggy felt terrible that Flynn and his stupid honor had let Ziggy drag him out here, away from Corinth where he should be focused on his budding romance with Gemma.
They'd been driving since before sunrise, and kept going well after sunset, probably almost a solid twenty-four hours, and neither of them had slept in closer to forty-eight hours, but Flynn didn't complain, hadn't asked that they stop even though he knew Ziggy couldn't drive and he probably wouldn't trust Ziggy behind the wheel of the Hummer anyway. Ziggy had to suggest they stop and catch some shut-eye, and even lapse into convincing Flynn that it was safer, before the Scot had finally pulled over.
Ziggy finally found a position that, while not exactly conductive to sleeping was at least comfortable enough, sitting mostly upright with his head against a window and his legs extended out in front of him. He craned his neck and looked out at the starts, at how bright and real they looked compared to the artificial sky over Corinth.
He wondered idly if Dillon was looking at the same stars, and even go so far as picking out a constellation that reminded him of a wolf before he blanched at himself. What kind of thoughts were those? Sure, Dillon was his best friend, and he was probably in grave danger, but how sappy could one man get for another before it became indecent?
How indecent was it, anyway? Ziggy wouldn't call himself ashamed of the way he felt about other people. In theory he was technically bisexual, but he hadn't really had a chance to test that theory. It was easier in some ways to be a lackadaisical womanizer than to try and find the right person for him, and the obsession with women was eighty five percent an act anyway, an act he'd put on to mask his true feelings. But his true feelings about what, and for whom? The obvious answer was K, and it was a reasonable pursuit. He would throw himself in the way of danger to divert it from her in a heartbeat, in fact had on a number of occasions. But wouldn't he do the same for any of the Rangers? That didn't mean he loved them. But he had to admit that his fear for K, and for Dillon, was a bit more acute. And Dillon had proven more than capable of taking care of himself. So why was Ziggy sitting here, unable to sleep, giving himself a crick in his neck and wondering wistfully if he and Dillon saw the same stars?
Dillon was probably not gay. Ziggy needed to remember that. But who knew? Who really knew anything about Dillon? Dillon didn't even know everything about Dillon.
Ziggy knew. He knew how Dillon looked when he was happy, which was a rare occasion indeed. He knew that Dillon had a good heart, that his unwanted cybernetics didn't make him any less human. He knew that despite his gruff and brooding demeanor that he really cared. And, against all odds, he knew that Dillon had a particular care for him, for Ziggy, who on their first meeting had made a feeble attempt to hijack his car armed with nothing but a rusty muffler. And Dillon had known that Ziggy was hopeless, but he'd agreed to take him back to the city, and he'd done so with a style that had never been repeated by another. Storming the city in broad daylight, even destroying a part of the Venjix barricade with a single thermex charge. And, however miraculous that one-in-a-million shot had seemed, Dillon later proved that he did everything with as much finesse.
Ziggy buried his face in his hands and let out a choked little laugh that sounded somewhat hysterical in the close confines of the Hummer. Flynn shifted in his sleep and muttered something truly incomprehensible. Ziggy closed his eyes and tried to will himself to sleep, even just a bit. Only a few minutes, it wasn't all he needed but it was all wanted. It came grudgingly, gifting him with half-formed nightmares where he could hear Dillon and K crying for help but he couldn't move, couldn't speak, and they couldn't hear him screaming that he was coming, he would save them if he could just find them...
"We have to find them."
Scott shifted uncomfortably in proximity to the rage and barely disguised hurt and fear Doctor K was giving off. "Where did they go?" He asked. His voice echoed oddly in the Garage, and he didn't like thinking that the simple absence of Flynn's Hummer could make such a difference in the cavernous space.
Doctor K thrust a sheet of paper at him and he grabbed it more out of reflex than anything. She stormed away, gathering a number of odd objects as she went, her portable interface tucked protectively under one arm like a child with a security blanket.
He read the note, with no small amount of trouble. Ziggy's handwriting was horrendous. It explained his sense of impending dread about Dillon, and his intent to go find him and help. It made no mention of Flynn but Scott deduced that the former blue Ranger had caught Ziggy trying to leave alone and put his foot down. On the accelerator of his truck, no doubt.
Doctor K returned to him then, taking the note out of his hand and folding it neatly, tucking it into an inside pocket of her lab coat. At her feet was a familiar silver case. She knelt to open it, then stood again.
"Will you come with me, Ranger Red?"
Scott's hand itched to take the morpher and Engine Cell from her, but he hesitated. "Do I have a choice?"
"You always have a choice, Ranger Red... Scott. You will always be the leader of my team."
Scott sighed, then held his hand out for the morpher. "But how..."
Doctor K hefted the case again, carrying it to Scott's car. "How will we find them?"
Scott blinked, because the question was not one he had been planning on asking, but it was the more appropriate one nonetheless.
"I guess so, yeah." Scott trailed after her, picking up the bags she indicated and then helping her load up the car.
"Through the morphers. It's an untested safety measure I hoped I never needed to activate. A tracking feature through the Bio-Field. In theory, each morpher will lead us directly to it's operator through the DNA bonding."
"And if we have to use them?"
Doctor K lifted the last bag herself carefully and patted it with reverence. "I never travel unprepared, Ranger Red. I will have the most important programs with me. Your morphers will be fully operational, that much I can be sure of."
"Okay. Alright then, let's get moving."
Doctor K stopped him just beside his car. She touched his arm, but for once the familiar gesture didn't feel forced or awkward. "Thank you for doing this."
"Hey." Scott hesitated for a moment, then gave her a sideways one-armed hug. "What kind of leader would I be if I left my team in danger?"
Doctor K nodded, then pulled away, settling herself in the passenger seat, the bag holding her computer safely in her lap.
"Drive as fast as you deem necessary. Rangers Blue and Green already have a three-day head start on us.
Red Blaster approached the car, his ray gun still leveled at Dillon's chest. He gave Dillon a once-over, his face impassive. "Who are you supposed to be?"
Dillon bristled. He wasn't big on being ordered around, and the red coat was pushing all of his rivalry buttons without the stop-gap measure of reluctant respect he'd gained for Scott. "I'm Dillon. And I suppose you have some carnival clown name like your friends?"
The red blaster found its way to pressing against Dillon's chest, but he managed to resist the impulse to knock it away and give this guy a few welts for his trouble. "One of those clowns is my brother, so watch your mouth. I don't know why he brought you here, but you'd better hope he has a good reason to trust you."
Dillon slowly lifted his hands into a surrendering position, rolling his eyes at Summer when she slid up to stand beside him, backing him up.
"Poison." The boy with the pink blaster hadn't moved from his position by the door, and to Dillon's trained eye he was obviously guarding it, leading Dillon to believe that their Doctor D must still be inside. He smirked at the reminder of Doc K. "Who are these people?"
Party Poison slid a hand through his shock of red hair. "Drifters. They're pretty fresh-like, but that car didn't come from Battery City, you know?"
"They wanna meet Doctor D." Fun Ghoul chimed in.
Party Poison approached the boy with the pink blaster and rested a hand on his arm. "They're chill, Pony. And I think you don't wanna fight with the brute, he's kinda touchy. They're unarmed." He added, and finally the boy called Pony lowered his blaster and turned back through the door, presumably to announce their guests.
"Touchy bunch." Summer said quietly out the corner of her mouth. Dillon smirked.
"We're unarmed." He said. "So maybe we should act like it. "
Summer laughed quietly, but they both snapped back to attention when the boy came out again.
"He's off the air. Come in. Nothing funny, alright, or I'll ghost you."
Dillon nodded in understanding and backed towards the Fury, circling it to open the passenger door. He took Tenaya's hand with a reassuring grip and smiled even though she probably couldn't see it.
"Just stick close to me, little sister."
She smiled and squeezed his hand. "You got it, big brother."
The endearment made his chest feel light, and he walked with his arm around her shoulders to the ex-diner, Summer right behind them.
It was dark in a reassuring kind of way inside, most of the light coming from battery powered lanterns and a few stripes of natural light that crept in between the boards over the windows. Their five hosts circled around their misplaced trio. Pink still had his blaster out, but Dillon noticed that this was probably because he didn't have a holster for it, at least not currently on his person.
They were led through the former dining area towards a pretty impressive office-type layout behind what was probably once the counter. Dillon kept his eyes wide for their Doctor Death Defying, but he hadn't exactly expected what he saw.
He was actively there for one thing, though Dillon admitted to himself that expecting a distorted voice and a letter on a screen was probably stupid. The Doctor had sunglasses on despite the definite lack of a need for them. His cheeks were rough with stubble that was less than a day shy of being a beard.
And, as he circled the counter to stand awkwardly in front of a group of people that he only half trusted, Dillon saw that the man these strange people from the wastes so revered was in a wheelchair.
It was a blow, to be sure. Not that Dillon was the type to judge people based on any real or perceived handicap (he, after all, was subject to the possibility of freezing up and crashing if he got too close to an EMP), he still couldn't imagine being in a wheelchair. Not least because without use of his legs, Dillon would be without use of his car, and he'd honestly probably rather die.
"Gimme a story, kiddos." the Doctor had a deep voice, smooth with practice and regular use.
Party Poison stepped forward to stand beside Dillon. "We brought a couple of Zone Rats," He said. Dillon's eyes caught a glint of metal about the Doctor's right leg, and he felt a sudden overwhelming kinship. Though his inorganic parts were all beneath the surface of his skin, they'd still shaped his life. This man had at least a slight element of robotics coloring him, and Dillon found that this was leading him to trust the Doctor instead of shy away.
The Doctor took off his sunglasses and looked up at Dillon thoughtfully for a moment. "Where you from, tumbleweed?"
There was a moment of awkward silence, the men behind him shifting awkwardly, exchanging confused glances. Not the answer they'd expected, obviously. Dillon focused on Doctor Death Defying's face as the skin around his eyes tightened into smile lines and he began to laugh.
"What's the joke?" Dillon asked defensively.
"Corinth is a myth, tumbleweed. A ghost on the waves from a coast that fell into the sea a long time ago. You must have got a good smack from some Dracs to get yourself believing those old stories."
Summer took a step forward then, her irritation rolling off her in waves that piqued Dillon's own anger. Everything they'd been fighting for, just shrugged off like a storybook tale for children.
"It's not a myth. Corinth is real, we've been there for the past two years defending it from Venjix."
Now the joke was in the realm the others understood. Fun Ghoul's laugh stood out in particular.
"Venjix?" He gasped, one hand pressed to his side in exaggerated pain.
"You believe in bogeymen too?" Party Poison asked. "Scary bad guys that live under your bed and go bump in the night?"
Dillon growled. "You think this is a joke?"
Doctor Death Defying shrugged and Dillon wanted to throttle the man even despite the threat lingering from the boy with the pink blaster.
"Venjix isn't a joke, but that doesn't stop it from being funny. A computer virus that's destroying the world, that launched all the bombs?" He shook his head. "It's a story, a damn good one, cooked up by Better Living to scapegoat."
"It's not." Tenaya finally spoke it. "He... It is real. It ruined my life, almost killed us more times than you can count."
"Yeah." The Doctor looked at Tenaya thoughtfully, at the gray cloud in her pupils. "You're blind, little motor baby. Now, it's not my place to call anyone weak, but some people maybe could benefit from staying underground, if they're afraid of the city."
"What city?" Dillon snarled. "She's with me, and I protect her fine, so you keep your opinions about her to yourself."
"Battery City, tumbleweed." The Doctor fixed Dillon with a steely stare. "The only city left, full of brainwashees and pill bottles. You might have yourself all mixed up, thinking Corinth is real, some safe haven way out East, but I'll tell you, if you're not run away from Battery City, I don't envy where you did come from."
Summer stepped closer to the Doctor. "We're from Corinth." She stated, then she pulled the lanyard holding her ID out of the inside pocket of her jacket, throwing the holographic card in his face. "If you think it's a joke, explain that."
As the Doctor examined the ID, Dillon found himself inadvertently pining for Ziggy again. Once, Dillon had almost begun to believe, as the Doctor did, that Corinth was done for, that the radio transmissions were relics left behind after Venjix's victory. Until he'd met Ziggy, Dillon had almost given up hope.
The Doctor looked up at Summer thoughtfully, then held her ID out to her. She snatched it out of his hand and hung it defiantly around her neck. The Doctor's voice was soft now, like his words were secrets he had to keep from the walls. "It's real?"
"And it's really safe." Summer said in an equally soft voice. "Venjix is gone. Defeated. We were there. There's a whole world out there breaking free."
Doctor Death Defying leaned back in his chair. His gaze passed over the three of them, then further to include his own boys gathered around, and he hummed. "We've got a lot to talk about then. I don't know why you'd ever leave some place safe, but I don't judge. I'm just here to tell you that you stumbled into the worst possible place you could have found, especially if you're looking to help."
Dillon put his arm protectively around Tenaya's shoulders, reached to pat Summer's wrist. "Hopeless cases are kind of our specialty."
Ziggy woke up when the Hummer stopped moving. He hadn't even realized he was asleep, much less that Flynn had woken up and started driving again without bothering to wake him.
Ziggy sat up and peered into the rear view mirror at Flynn, who was scanning the waste outside the truck worriedly. Flynn's eyes slowly found the mirror and he locked gazes with Ziggy. "Mornin'."
"Where are we?"
Flynn leaned over to shift through the old maps Ziggy had brought with them from Doctor K's collection. He spread one out over the steering wheel and compared it to his odometer and the compass in his dash. "Nevada, I'd wager."
Ziggy closed his eyes, trying to picture the map of the country he'd been staring at for the past day and a half.
"We should be pretty close now." Flynn said, trying twice to fold the map before giving it up as a bad job and throwing it back into the passenger seat.
"Why'd we stop?" Ziggy asked, trying to conceal his stretching and yawning, blinking sleep from his eyes and letting the lingering unease from his dreams fade away.
"Gotta put some gas in." Flynn shrugged, then turned in his seat to fix Ziggy with a concerned stare. "You've been having some nightmares."
Ziggy shook his head. "No, I'm alright."
"It wasn't a question." Flynn said. "You were mutterin' and mumblin'. Sounded pretty bad. You want to talk about it? My da swears by it. Says it's the only way to drive out the demons."
"Let's just keep moving." Ziggy grumbled, crawling across the expanse of seat for the door.
Flynn shrugged. "Have it your way."
"I'm going to stretch my legs." Ziggy said, though he was fairly sure Flynn didn't care what he was doing. It wasn't like Flynn was his chaperone or something.
The windswept expanse of desert was so much like the wastes still surrounding Corinth that Ziggy could swear if he turned around he'd see the dome glinting in the sun. But out here, there was nothing for literally miles around. No scrubby little forest that edged Corinth on one side, no dried up river bed the city had re-irrigated. Just lots and lots of sand and dust and dunes, like it had been a desert long before Venjix. Which was a possibility, Ziggy reminded himself. Before Venjix had hacked his way into National and worldwide defense systems and sent every bomb flying, the country once had more than one ecosystem, more than one kind of terrain.
Ziggy drifted in and out of thought, wondering how long it would take to fix all the damage to re-populate the country, to re-grow all the plants. Ziggy had a pretty good feeling he wouldn't be around to see it.
It took a moment for Ziggy to realize that he'd stopped pacing. Not just that, but his eyes weren't focused blankly into an endless distance but fixed on a cloud of dust and debris that was getting steadily bigger.
"Flynn..." He said, or tried to, but his throat was dry, and not just parched but sandy with a sudden gripping fear. The dust cloud was coming into sharper focus, and ahead of it, a black car and two motorcycles kicking it up.
It was like all of Ziggy's worst nightmares realizing themselves right in front of him. A car that was too shiny and new looking to belong in the wastes, like the Scorpion Cartel had changed their minds and decided they would rather Ziggy ghosted after all. And flanking it, motorbikes every bit like the ones ridden by Grinders that patrolled the wastes, looking for hopeless refugees to subdue and enslave.
Ziggy licked his lips and tried to wet his throat. "Flynn!"
The former blue ranger turned his head. He had the hood of the Hummer propped open, using their momentary break to check up on the engine. "What's up?" He asked, perfectly at his ease until he saw the approaching patrol. His eyes went wide. That was as close as he got to showing fear though, then he was slamming down the hood of the truck and sprinting for the Hummer's door.
Ziggy gathered himself and tried to run but he panicked, hitting the ground. The hot desert sand tore at his palms, seeping into the fresh cuts and burning like fire.
Ziggy scrambled, trying to find purchase and strength, but no sooner had he regained his footing when a searing blast of heat and smoke knocked him backwards to sprawl spread-eagle in the dirt. Words caught in his throat, he wanted to cry out, to scream for help, but he knew Dillon would not be coming to rescue him from this nightmare come to life.
Ziggy couldn't see Flynn through the smoke and sand, he couldn't even see the Hummer, but he felt the heat from a fire and he suspected it's primary fuel was the Hummer. He closed his eyes to stop the sudden gathering of tears. This was his fault, all of it. Flynn shouldn't even be out here, he should be home, fixing things with his father and holding on to Gemma and now he was probably dead. And Ziggy was to blame.
His eyes burned when he opened them again, he squinted to make out three figures materializing out of the smoke.
These were not Grinders. Two of them were probably human, at least in posture and movement, but they had horrible masks over their faces, leering mouths ringed with red. Disgusting, really.
The third looked more human, but felt less so. He moved with a strange precision and poise no human should naturally posses, and the heat and the smoke and swirling dust didn't seem to bother him the slightest bit. This one was obviously the leader. He held up one hand and the masked fiends stopped in their tracks, still aiming pure white blasters at Ziggy's head.
"Sir?" One of them asked, with a voice that was too human to come from behind that terrible mask.
The leader knelt down. Ziggy could see flames reflected in his dark glasses for a moment before the reflection shifted and Ziggy was looking at his own ashen face, slack with shock. He tried to move, but found he really couldn't, couldn't lift a hand to defend himself, to stop the bald stranger from grabbing his Corinth ID. He tugged on the lanyard and Ziggy's entire upper body jerked off the ground for a moment before the lanyard snapped, burning the back of Ziggy's neck with force as he fell back again, knocking his scant breath away.
Even this close, Ziggy couldn't see the stranger's eyes through the tinted glass, just his own panicked, and then resigned, gaze.
"Corinth." The man's voice was as smooth and unaffected by the desert as his appearance, but it had the same unnatural edge to it. Not quite robotic, but close. Ziggy blinked, then, overwhelmed with a sudden surge of self-preservation, he tried to struggle, only getting so far as to almost be sitting up before one of the masked men kicked him in the ribs hard enough to roll Ziggy onto his side, gasping and coughing.
"Sir?" He asked again, deferring to the bald man.
"We'll have to keep it alive." The man pocketed Ziggy's ID with a deadly, inhuman smirk. "Can't question the dead, now, can we?"
The man turned his back. "Subdue it."
Ziggy tried to gather enough strength to fight, but without his morpher and out of practice, he was useless. One of the masked men pulled a small device out of a pocket and leaned down to press it to the side of Ziggy's neck.
The tazer shot electricity through Ziggy and his body shook reflexively and then went limp. He had time for a single thought before blackness filled his mind: Summer had been right. Whoever these people were, they were worse than Venjix.
"Better Living Industries. BL/ind." Doctor Death Defying had finally abandoned his little broadcast center, now he sat near a table, sipping idly from a bottle of water. The others, now identified as 'Killjoys', whatever that meant, perched in various places around the diner, some of them eating some kind of offensive slop out of unmarked cans. Pink, who had finally introduced himself as Show Pony, was sitting in Doctor Death Defying's place, headphones over his ears, sifting through radiation-scrambled transmissions.
Dillon sat across the table from the Doctor, Tenaya on his right. Summer was talking to the tall Killjoy with the hair, Jet Star. He'd mentioned motorcycles and that was all it took to get Summer off like a shot, chatting makes and models and fuel out take and gears and whatever else bike enthusiasts talked about. Dillon wasn't a fan.
"They started up during the war, ostensibly making jobs for people who couldn't participate, for whatever reason. They grew by leaps and bounds, and became something more than just a company. When the dust settled, they'd founded Battery City over the ruins of Los Angeles. All happy-go-lucky to the casual observer, they're really more of a dictatorship than anything."
"How do you mean?"
"They run the city with an iron fist. Anyone who rebels against the regime is drugged and brainwashed to comply. If you're able to resist, they kill you."
Dillon frowned. He hadn't realized how good they'd had it in Corinth, even with the hybrids running around unchecked. The Colonel could be hard headed, trusting a turtle defense to work even when it had been proven futile, but it had been for the better of the people. They'd all thought that Corinth was the last human city, the last hope for survival and here, three-thousand miles away, was an entire city of people who thought the same, or would if they were allowed to think. It made him sick.
"Where do you all figure in?"
At this the Doctor smiled and this time it wasn't with unfounded humor, so Dillon found the expression comforting. "We do what we can. Help escapees get their footing out here in the Zones. Broadcast to remind people what they've lost. Art, music, life."
Dillon nodded. "We have to help them."
"That's what we're trying to do, tumbleweed."
"We should storm this city. Attack, instead of running."
The Doctor shook his head. "You're underestimating them. What you've got to understand is, before you got here, we all had it figured that BL/ind started the war. Fabricated it as a means to assert control. They outnumber us, literally hundreds to one. They out-gun us too. A direct attack would be suicide."
Dillon fell back into his seat, letting himself brood pretty heavily for a moment. The Doctor leaned forward, tapping the table to catch his attention. "Don't think I'll ever give up on the people trapped in there. These boys, they have family, wives and children, that want to escape but can't. We won't stop until we fix it, but bringing the fight to them won't do any good."
"So, what then? I want to help, we want to help. That's why we're out here, to rebuild the world. Venjix is gone, there's nothing to stop us from setting everything right but time."
"Venjix." The Doctor sighed. "Honestly, I'm still struggling with that one, tumbleweed. A computer virus did all this? Why?"
"It was sentient, fully self-aware. It enslaved humans to build it machines, drones and robots that could fight. It tapped into everything."
"Seems pretty dodgy."
"I thought so. Still do, sometimes. But there it is. The truth is harder to believe than an expertly told lie, that's a fact."
Show Pony suddenly appeared at the Doctor's side, a hand resting familiarly on his arm, gripping slightly. Dillon wondered for a moment what kind of bond these two shared.
"Buzzkill's on his way here. He's got someone with him, he wouldn't say who, just that he was hurt bad."
The Doctor nodded and turned towards the corner where Summer and Jet Star were still deep in conversation, Kobra Kid of the red jacket listening in but rarely commenting.
Jet Star looked over, then stood up as he realized he was being addressed. "What's up?"
"Buzzkill's bringing a patient for you."
Jet Star crossed the diner. "He say what was wrong?"
Doctor Death Defying looked to Show Pony, who shook his head.
"No, just that it was pretty bad."
Dillon, feeling very lost, leaned forward. "Who is Buzzkill?"
"He's not really a Killjoy." Party Poison answered for him as the Doctor wheeled away from the table and towards the door. The pink blaster was in a holster that hung from the back of his chair, which explained Show Pony's lack of a holster, and also implied that he and the Doctor weren't often far from one another.
"He's sort of a double agent." Fun Ghoul added, noting Dillon's confusion. "He's got a Battery City ID, and a clean record. On books he works for BL/ind as a surveyor, so he can get out into the Zones for days at a time without raising questions."
"He's a sharp actor with a quick mind. He keeps us informed of the movement of patrols and Exterminators, helps people out of the city sometimes." Party Poison elaborated. "He's one of our greatest assets. We'd probably all be dust a long time ago if it weren't for him."
"He brings us letters, too." Fun Ghoul added softly, his eyes misting over with thought. "From our wives, you know."
"You're all married?"
"Most of us, since before the war."
"He's here!" Show Pony called out from the door. Jet Star was the first out, followed shortly by Fun Ghoul. Fun ghoul had his blaster out, Jet Star had one hand on his own. Dillon moved towards the door to see the commotion. With a reflexive motion, Summer moved to take his place beside Tenaya, taking her hand.
Dillon squinted in the sun, struggling to focus on the scene. Before he even realized what he was seeing, he was moving into the heat, overtaking Fun Ghoul and standing beside Jet Star, his stomach turning over and knotting as he looked down at a familiar face.
The newcomer, with short brown hair and large blue eyes, looked up at him. He was small, barely reaching Dillon's shoulder. He was dressed in grays and whites that clashed with the colorful Killjoys but put Dillon's own monochromatic sensibilities at ease.
"Who's this?" Buzzkill asked Jet Star as the Killjoy tried to figure out the best way to get Flynn in out of the heat.
"Buzzkill, meet Dillon. He's from Corinth."
"No way." Buzzkill was staring at him now, but Dillon barely noticed. He pushed Jet Star out of the way as gently as he could, considering he was shaking with fear and barely restrained rage. Who had done this to the Flynn, or all people? Dillon would ghost them all.
"I'll take him." Dillon said quietly. The virus was cured, but that didn't remove or disable the robotic implants that riddled Dillon's body. He hadn't lost his strength, or his speed. Flynn's body was heavy, sure, but Dillon lifted him easily in his arms. He was limp, but warm, and thankfully breathing. A burn marred his face and his arm on the left side, and blood was trickling from the corner of his mouth and from a pretty nasty cut on his head. But he was alive.
He was alive, but what the hell was he doing here?
Jet Star and Buzzkill followed Dillon back into the diner, where Jet Star immediately took up the lead. "Lay him out here, please."
Dillon did as he was asked, and Summer appeared at his side, grabbing his hand in a crushing grip. "Oh my god."
He nodded. "I don't know what he's doing here." He said tersely, watching Jet Star open a case and pull out medical supplies.
"He must have been trying to find us." She choked out, her voice thick. Dillon glanced at her, confirming that she was fighting back tears. He gulped, his heart pounding painfully in his chest.
"He wouldn't have come alone." He gritted out, and she gasped again, knowing he was right. Who was missing, which member of their team, which friend? Where was he, or she? Dead? Not dead, couldn't be. Dillon refused to believe it.
"You know him?" Dillon turned around to face Doctor Death Defying, who was frowning at Flynn as Jet Star set about cleaning his wounds.
"Who did this to him?"
"He's from Corinth too?" Buzzkill asked, a note of excitement in his voice. He turned to Fun Ghoul and grabbed his arm. "I've looked up the co-ords, Corinth is where Boston used to be. My mom could be there!"
Doctor Death Defying shushed him, then gestured towards Dillon. "Was it Exterminators?"
Buzzkill shrugged. "Who else? Found him in a pretty bad wreck. Damn shame, that was a nice truck, or it looked like it."
Dillon growled. He had an odd fondness for Flynn's truck, mainly because Flynn had never acted like it could beat the Fury in a drag race. The idea of it being wrecked made his anger all the more acute. "Who are they? These Exterminators. Where?"
Party Poison was standing beside him. Summer had moved forward to help Jet Star dress Flynn's wounds. "Was it a wreck, Buzzkill, or was it..."
"Probably a charge." Buzzkill said softly. Party Poison's face darkened.
"Korse. That's his style." Party Poison turned to Buzzkill. "Was there anything else? Any bodies?"
Buzzkill shook his head. "I'm sorry." He glanced at Dillon. "If your friend had someone with him, they're probably gone now."
"You mean dead?"
"Worse." Party Poison growled, starting to pace slightly. "The dead leave bodies. They took him, or her. Whoever. If there was someone else there, they took them to the City. If they're lucky they'll just get dosed and integrated."
"And if they're not lucky?" Dillon was trembling with barely restrained rage and action. "What then?" He couldn't figure out who would have come with Flynn. Not Ziggy, it couldn't be Ziggy. Somehow, Dillon thought that if Ziggy were in danger, he'd know. He'd just know.
Party Poison stopped pacing. "Interrogation. Torture. Imprisonment. No escape, and no chance of rescue."
"No!" Dillon slammed a fist into a table, heard the already battered surface crack under the force. "Nothing is impossible, you hear me? Nothing. If these Exterminators have one of my friends, we're getting them back."
Party Poison shook his head, but Buzzkill cleared his throat. "Don't go storming off just yet, Corinth." He tilted his head. "I have too many questions for you to answer, I won't see you going off on a suicide mission with no plan. You need information first, that's where I come in. Give me two days."
Party Poison nodded. "What do you say, Dillon?"
Dillon grit his teeth, glancing back at Summer. She was pale, gripping one of Flynn's hands with both of her own. She glanced up, her eyes blood shot.
"Two days." He said, turning to press a finger to Buzzkill's chest. "You have two days. Give me something to work with, or I won't be answering any of your questions."
Buzzkill nodded, his gaze serious. He glanced over at Show Pony, back in place behind the broadcast station. "Can you raise King?"
Show Pony grinned. "Already on it."
"King Korg. My partner in crime, sort of. He works waste removal for the City. Between the two of us, we can find out if your friend has been brought into the city as a citizen or a prisoner. We can move forward from there."
"Okay." Dillon relaxed, but only slightly, as Buzzkill went to stand with Show Pony as he started sending out coded broadcasts. Dillon moved to Flynn's side. He looked very small, patched up with makeshift bandages. Not at all in character for the expressive Scot. Dillon's stomach burned with regret. What was he doing here? How much of all this was his fault And who had they maybe lost forever?
Doctor K was an odd passenger. She was quiet, or she didn't talk much anyway. She hummed to herself, kept her laptop open on her lap, typing away at something or other. Scott tried at first to make idle conversation, but her monosyllabic answers and terse silence soon rubbed off on him and he fell silent, focusing instead on what remained of the road ahead of them.
It was true that Flynn and Ziggy had a head start on them, but Scott was fairly confident that they'd catch up with them, if not before they found the others, then at the very least shortly after. Flynn's truck was a perfect machine, well cared for and souped up to the absolute limit, but it was still a truck, and it simply couldn't match the speed of Scott's racer.
Scott had used his sway as acting commander of Eagle Squadron, not to mention his position as Colonel Truman's son, to gather a pretty good supply of gasoline, enough that they probably wouldn't have to scavenge any if they were lucky. Flynn's first priority was his truck, of course, but he'd done some pretty impressive work on Scott's car too, not the least of which were some pretty impressive gas mileage upgrades.
They flew through the desert landscape as they sun crept across the sky, and as each mile began to look more and more alike, Scott found himself thinking, worrying, fretting about his friends.
Not that he didn't think they could defend themselves. He'd fought beside them, knew their strengths and weaknesses, knew they could watch their own, and would watch each other. If there was anyone to worry about, it was Ziggy, and possibly Tenaya, if her visual implants had failed the way Doctor K figured they would. But he knew Dillon would never let anything happen to her, and even Ziggy was somewhat capable, especially with Flynn at his side.
After nearly a full day and night of driving, Scott stopped for the fourth time to put some gas in his tank, and when he glanced at the Doctor, he found her fast asleep, head lolling on her shoulder. Even with her hands splayed on the keyboard of her computer, she looked more peaceful than Scott had ever seen her. He realized that he'd never consciously known the Doctor to sleep. She must, of course, but she didn't keep quarters with anyone. He'd seen her late at night in alphabet-patterned pajamas and fuzzy slippers, but only during states of emergency and always seeming completely awake and alert.
He got out of the car and walked around it twice, both to stretch his legs and give his girl a once over. The engine sounded just as good as it ever had, but he was still a little nervous. He'd never driven her so long, nor so fast for such an extended time.
When they found Flynn, the mechanic would make sure everything was still on the up and up. Until then, Scott just had to trust fate. Not an easy thing to do, being military born and bred. Fate was notoriously unwieldy, and if he confided his thoughts to Doctor K she'd only scoff. She had never had use for, in her words, abstract ideological concepts.
When Scott returned to the car it took him less than a second to notice the way the Doctor's computer was beeping incessantly at her, as if it were trying to wake her. Call him a realist, but Scott sincerely doubted she'd set some kind of alarm clock for herself. She most likely hadn't even intended to sleep, and Scott realized that he himself was oddly awake, not tired in the slightest.
Her computer must be trying to alert her of something else then, and he could only see one logical explanation. The security measure tracking the DNA bonded ew-Rangers.
"Doc. Hey, Doctor." He took her shoulder and gently shook her. She awoke with a start, looking at him with wide eyes, seeming to gather her thoughts and figure out where on earth she was. "Your computer, Doc."
She blinked once, then turned her attention to the machine, her hands flexing over the keyboard for a moment before her fingers started to fly across the keys. "Yes!" She exalted suddenly, turning to Scott with a smile, "It's working. The Series Green and Blue morphers have pinpointed a likely position for their Operators."
Scott grinned. "Awesome! Where?"
Her fingers continued to clack away at the computer for a minute, Scott watching her every move intently. "South by southwest," she stated finally. "Approximately four-hundred more miles. Astonishing. I never would have figured the program would work at such a great distance. Do you know what this means?"
Scott put the car in gear and peeled out, altering his due West course to align better with the Doctor's specific direction. "Not at all, Doc. But I'd appreciate it if you'd tell me. It's been a long drive with nothing to talk about."
Doctor K looked at him, suddenly looking just a bit ashamed. "Of course. I'm sorry, Scott. You deserve better."
He laughed. "I don't deserve anything, Doc. You just sound excited, I'd like to be excited too."
"Well." Her typing didn't cease or even slow as she spoke, so Scott did the best he could at keeping up his own speed while still listening to her. "While we were locked in a stalemate with Venjix, it still had an untold amount of influence over computers of any sort. Inside the dome I had constructed a series of fire walls that specifically blocked the Venjix virus at the base-code, which gave me unmitigated access to the Bio-field, which allowed me to re-energize your morphers with great speed and efficiency."
Scott nodded. "But everything outside the dome belonged to Venjix."
"In short, yes. While it couldn't directly effect the Bio-Field until it gained direct interface with my programs, it could still block, or at least hinder, my own access. This was why I could only contact you through your morphers unreliably and sporadically when you were outside the dome."
"And why you couldn't give us more than one megazord configuration when we were in search of Omega City."
Scott glanced at her and noticed her little smile, obviously pleased that he was keeping up with her.
"So what's the case now?"
"Venjix, being a flawed program, believing itself to be infallible, and under the mistaken impression that it was to be victorious, left very few protective measures of its own in place. It's most catastrophic mistake, obviously, was consolidating its awareness into the Palace once its primary objective became the subjugation or annihilation of Corinth."
Now Scott was struggling to keep up. He considered himself fairly intelligent, but Doctor K spoke like she worked, flawless and complex. "Okay."
"Thus," she continued, oblivious to Scott's interjection. "Upon destroying the majority of its sentient awareness, it was child's play to break its remaining defenses and delete any remainder of the virus. The physical antidote to the biologically based virus I developed for Dillon helped immensely, the programming required to synthesize it worked as a base-point to create an anti-virus in the technological realm." She paused, presumably reveling for a moment in her own genius. It was well deserved. "I digress. Venjix's defeat opened wide channels through the wastes, long forgotten power-lines and fiber-optic cables previously choked by Venjix still function, allowing me to connect to the Bio-Field through the matrix I wrote from virtually anywhere."
"But you weren't surprised this new homing program worked, but at the distance it was scanning, right?"
"Correct." She smiled at him again, and he shrugged. "If this program can work over such a great distance... The Bio-Field is endless, Scott. It's like a completely separate reality, another dimension almost, that mirrors ours, touches it and connects everything alive together. Distance doesn't matter to the Bio-Field, I was limited only by my own technological advancements, and the barriers Venjix created to slow my progress. With this new-found freedom I can write a program that will allow me to re-energize your morphers from anywhere, at any time."
"Wow." Scott was suitably impressed. What he knew about his morpher was limited. He understood only the basics of how it worked, or what the Bio-Field was, even. But her excitement was contagious.
"It might even be possible to write a program that allows them to re-energize themselves, if not continuously, then with a reasonable down time. The possibilities are endless!"
The rising sun seemed serendipitous, climbing slowly over the horizon as the Doctor spoke, spreading golden rays across the sky, slowly illuminating their deserted surroundings as they blew across the sand. Only one thing was off in the beauty, the poetry of the moment as the sun completed its ascent over the edge of the Earth.
A pillar of dark smoke smudged the sky in front of them, rising from a distinct point into a more dispersed cloud. It was obviously a fire, and it had some kind of fuel source to have kept burning long enough to make such an impressive display.
All the worse, it was dead ahead. Scott knew logically that he was imagining shapes in the smoke that made his stomach twist with dark thoughts, but he still felt in his gut that the fire was their final destination.
And he deeply feared what they might find there.
Ziggy regained consciousness. That was the only way to describe this slow return to the world of the living. He didn't think it could count as waking up when you hadn't technically been asleep.
His mind returned first, bringing with it all manner of terrible things. A burning in his throat and behind eyelids he was afraid to open. A dull throbbing pain in his side. The memory of the explosion, the sting in the palms of his hands, the heavy feeling of guilt and loss.
He opened his eyes and immediately regretted it. The room he was in was brilliantly lit, artificial lighting much like was present in Doctor K's lab, reflecting off clean white walls and stainless steel implements and dark camera lenses, giving the illusion of an even brighter space, too bright to be allowed.
"You are awake?"
Ziggy's stomach clenched and he felt suddenly ill as the smooth voice from his nightmares, or nightmarish memories, filled his ears. But no, it wasn't the bald headed demon addressing him, but a woman with a lab coat and a long auburn braid hanging over her left shoulder. She peered at him with piercing eyes, too dark to look natural in her pale face. Much like the man in the desert, her voice had a hint of a robotic quality to it.
Ziggy choked back his fear, did his best not to let it show. Whoever these people were, they were not good, were not trying to help him. 'Can't question the dead,' the man had said. Ziggy would refuse to be a good little interrogation subject. He was well practiced. He told himself he had nothing to fear.
Ziggy made a conscious decision not to struggle, usually a good policy, but he did stretch just a bit, testing his freedom, and he found himself strapped down. He'd seen Dillon in this exact position after Venjix had used a device to remotely control the robotic implants in his body and use him. Thick bands of some metal across his chest, stomach and thighs, plus shackles around his wrists. He almost laughed at the thought. Did they find him dangerous? What a novelty.
The woman, and he struggled not to think of her as a doctor, because she might not be, even despite the lab coat that pinged guilty memories of K, moved closer. She had a clipboard in one hand, and a tazer like the one used on him in the desert hanging from her belt.
"You are Ziggy Grover?" She asked finally, after examining him thoroughly, or as thoroughly as she could manage without ever getting close enough to him to touch. His hands had been bandaged at some point and he smirked at the feeble show of hospitality. "Please answer honestly. I do not wish to hurt you, nor to see you come to any harm while you are within my jurisdiction."
"Who are you?" Ziggy grumbled. His throat felt raw, his mouth dry, leaving the words half formed and slurred as he spoke them. "What do you want from me?"
"Only information, Ziggy Grover." She tilted her head. "That is your name?" She lifted his Corinth ID from the clipboard and flashed it at him. "This was found on your person. If the information on it is true this makes you a very valuable specimen, unique in the City. If you prove useful you need never feel pain again."
"Fat chance of that." He said, his instincts rising to the occasion, as they had numerous times before. Humor was a defense mechanism, he knew that and he used it to the best of his ability.
He could swear she almost smiled at him, but in complete absence of any friendliness or amusement it was hard to tell. "I have only a few questions for you today, Mr. Grover. Simple date gathering, you understand. We need to know what kind of use you will be. Once I have completed my preliminary examination I will summon a physician to take a look at you, how does that sound?"
"Just peachy. Fire away, Miss... I don't think I caught your name?"
She made a note on her clipboard. "I didn't give it, Mr. Grover. I don't think it is relevant to our purpose here today. Now, please. For the record, your name."
He sighed. An innocent enough question, even he couldn't think of a good reason not to answer, seeing as she already knew the basics of him, possibly more if she had any ability to decode the embedded information in the hologram of his ID. "Ziggy Grover."
"And the names of your parents, please."
Ziggy scowled at her. What an immediate punch to the gut. If he didn't know better he'd think she knew just what kind of question to ask that would hurt, or that wouldn't receive a satisfactory answer. One question that met both of those requirements. But that information wasn't on his ID, coded or otherwise.
"I don't know," he answered honestly. "I never knew, and my birth records were lost during the war."
She stared at him intently for a beat, then made another note on her clipboard. "You are an orphan then. No siblings, no family to speak of?"
"No. Well, yes. I mean. My parents are most likely dead, aren't they? And thank you so much for bringing it up, you're really good at this no-pain deal you promised."
She quirked an eyebrow at him. The expression looked foreign on her impassive face. It kind of made his skin crawl, like every time the Venjix controlled Tenaya had laughed at the destruction she'd caused so casually. "I promised you nothing, Mr. Grover, unless you proved yourself useful. Now, your age?"
"Twenty-one last June."
"Very good. And this states that you recently inhabited a city known as Corinth."
Ziggy simply stared at her. She knew already, but he could tell her whole game had been leading up to this, he just couldn't fathom why.
"For the record, please, Mr. Grover."
"You can call me Ziggy."
She shook her head, her braid tumbled over her shoulder as she did. "I will not be calling you Ziggy. This is a formal proceeding, and it will be treated as such. Again, for the record, you are from Corinth?"
"Excellent. I will alert a physician."
She left quickly and quietly. Ziggy didn't see how she opened the door, an opening simply appeared in one wall and slid shut after her, leaving it looking just like all the other walls.
He closed his eyes. Damn the cameras, he wouldn't let them see him cry.
Dillon was going stir-crazy, and it had only been two hours. He had no idea how he was going to wait two days, sitting on his hands. He was a man of action, Doctor K had once accused he and Scott of being too heroic to stand idly by and he supposed it was true, though he didn't feel very heroic, just wired, full of a nervous energy and just dying to get out and start destroying everything that had ever dared hurt his friends.
Flynn was still unconscious, but Jet Star didn't seem too worried about his injuries. Dillon's rapidly turning mind lit on the tall Killjoy for a moment and he wondered where the man had learned medicine, or at least first aid. He sounded confident when he spoke about Flynn's condition. "His breathing is regular, and his eyes are dilating as quickly as they should be, all things considered. He took a nasty blow to the head, but if it caused a concussion it was mild. Nothing to worry about. The burns might scar, they went uncleaned so long, but I've got good luck in that arena, so maybe not."
Jet Star was patient too, and every time Dillon or Summer asked him to check on Flynn, he did so without complaint, and continued to pronounce Flynn physically well.
"Then why isn't he waking up?" Summer asked, exasperated, once and Jet Star patted her on the shoulder, but it wasn't a condescending action.
"Shock maybe. But his mind and his body need time to heal, and you heal best when you're asleep. The human body is incredibly resilient, I know you know that. It just takes time."
By the time Show Pony had gotten a communique through to King Korg (and Dillon realized then that he'd gotten used to thinking of these men in terms of their code names, had stopped wondering what their real names were), Dillon was beginning to consider a more immediate courses of action.
Buzzkill had stationed himself near the door and, growing weary of pestering Jet Star for constant updates on Flynn's condition, Dillon moved to sit next to him. Buzzkill glanced at him, and seemed to consider saying something before turning back to face the door. Dillon figured he was being stand-offish and he smiled at the thought of what Ziggy would say.
"I want to go with you." Dillon finally said, quietly so no one would hear without effort.
"What?" Buzzkill turned to face him again, head tilting curiously.
"When you leave for the city."
"You can't go into the city, Corinth." Buzzkill spoke slowly, explaining as if Dillon were a child.
"I don't need to. I just can't stay here."
"I said no suicide, Corinth. You promised me two day to figure out where your friend went."
"Just bring me close. Let me get my own information, as much as I can. Stake it out, you know." Dillon sighed. "Please?"
Buzzkill frowned. "Did that just kill you or what?"
"What?" Dillon growled.
"Saying please. Alright. I know a place we can drop you. It's near enough to the City that you'll be able to scout the entrance, but that's all I can do for you, and so help me, you'll stay there until we come back for you. Got it?"
Dillon grinned and nodded, offering his hand to Buzzkill, who shook it in agreement.
The growling sound of a diesel engine broke the silence outdoors, and Buzzkill was on his feet in an instant, striding out into the darkness to greet the newcomer.
King Korg drove a truck that made Flynn's Hummer look like a toy. Dillon wondered where he got his hands on enough diesel to fuel it, though he figured the streamlined logo on the doors might have something to do with it. Battery City Waste Removal in large, easy to read letters. Black against the silvery-gray paint job that, like the odd vending machine, gleamed too bright, too clean, too new to be a real part of the wasteland.
The King himself tumbled out of the driver's side of the truck in a move that looked equally clumsy and graceful, as if he'd fallen and still managed to make it look purposeful. He was taller than Buzzkill, but that wasn't hard. Doctor K was probably taller than Buzzkill. He had a dusting of stubble on his cheeks, but his hair was cropped short, almost exactly the same cut as Buzzkill's. It must be City standard, and suddenly Party Poison's absurdly red dye job and Jet Star's untamed curls made a lot more sense.
King Korg gathered Buzzkill up into a familiar hug, squeezing him tight in powerful arms and even lifting him off the ground for a moment. Buzzkill was frowning exaggeratedly at him when they pulled apart, but he was obviously happy to see his friend.
"How's the biz?" Buzzkill asked, leading the way back into the diner.
"Filthy." Was King Korg's response, and he and Buzzkill fell about laughing like this was some hilariously great joke.
It felt like the entire diner shifted slightly as every head turned to look at them expectantly when they entered. Every head but Flynn's. Dillon met Summer's eyes and she shook her head slightly. No change.
Party Poison met them halfway into the diner and King Korg gave him the same hug he'd given Buzzkill. He then moved around the diner, giving the same hug to each Killjoy, Show Pony included. Dillon guessed that maybe they didn't see King Korg as often as they saw Buzzkill.
"Any news?" Party Poison asked once they'd all settled down. Dillon hovered by the door, ready to get going.
"Nah, I'm on a return trip, haven't heard anything good in the Zones either. Except some rumors that there's a team of Dracs out Nevada-way. Can't figure out what they're doing all the way out there. No Zone Rats to speak of, just a band of Ferals, and they're more Northerly like, anyway."
Summer gently lay Flynn's hand across his chest and headed towards Dillon, but she slowed when King Korg's eyes followed her. "Who are these new friends?" He asked the room at large.
"They might be the reason there were Dracs out so far." Doctor Death Defying said. He gestured for Dillon to step closer, into the odd area of artificial light in the center of the diner. He frowned but did as he was bade, stepping forward to stand beside Summer. The Doctor pointed at each of them in turn and introduced them, and the King nodded approvingly, unphased by their lack of code names. He had such a friendly air about him, Dillon couldn't even make himself angry that they weren't already on the road.
Buzzkill grabbed King Korg's arm. "They're from Corinth."
King Korg looked at them more carefully this time, appraising. "No shit."
Dillon nodded, and after a moment Summer did too. The King's face split into a wide smile, the same one he'd giving to Buzzkill when he got out of his truck.
Buzzkill cleared his throat, speaking a bit more loudly than maybe was necessary, addressing the entire group. "Dillon is going to come with us, as far as the outskirts. He wants to case the city, and I..." He hesitated, "I don't think it's right to leave him in the dark. This is their thing, after all."
Party Poison frowned, clearly unimpressed with this turn of events, but the Doctor nodded.
Summer turned to look at Dillon, and she looked almost hurt. "Were you going to tell me, or just take off?" She asked quietly. The Killjoys immediately launched into a very pointed conversation that excluded them, and Dillon silently thanked them for the cover as he took Summer's arm and led her back towards the darkness surrounding Flynn's makeshift sick bed.
"I have to go. You know that, as well as you know you have to stay here, in case Flynn wakes up."
"Of course." She grumbled, circling the table away from him. He decided to let her have the physical distance.
"Imagine if he woke up, surrounded by strangers. Probably ready to fight for his life. Someone's got to be here to explain, and you know it makes sense for it to be you. And besides..." He trailed off, his stomach in knots over his next thought.
"I'm worried that... I think it might be Ziggy who was with him." Dillon finally admitted. Her face fell, and it was like a punch in the gut, because he could tell that as much as she'd tried to deny it, just as he had, they both knew it to be all too likely.
"He's my partner." Dillon sighed. "If he's being held captive in that place, I need to... I need to save him. He won't be able to alone."
"I know." She admitted, though he wasn't sure if it was to his needing to go, or to Ziggy's inability to defend himself. They were equally likely prospects. "So you're leaving with them."
"I'll come back."
She leaned over Flynn's body, so she could punch him in the arm. "You'd better." She looked across the diner, and he followed her gaze to see Tenaya curled up in an empty booth and possibly asleep. "Don't you dare take off without telling her."
Dillon shook his head. "Never again."
Scott felt absolutely sick at heart as they pulled up alongside the wreck still spitting smoke into the sky. He couldn't bear to look at Doctor K as he shut off his engine and left the car, opening the trunk and shifting empty gas cans aside. He couldn't imagine what her face must look like, he just didn't want to see. He needed time to process this in his own way.
He found his emergency fire extinguisher and pulled it free of the trunk. Setting his shoulders, taking a steeling breath and praying aloud that he wasn't about to find bodies, he approached the burning remainder of Flynn's truck.
Scott kept one eye on the ground as he moved closer then started to circle the wreckage, spraying at the base of each little fire he found until it finally sputtered and died. Here he saw footprints, two or maybe three sets converging on a fourth set that stopped amongst them. He'd examine them more closely once he had the fire under control. There he saw tire tracks, and it was easier to tell from a distance that they had been left by a motorcycle.
After a while he realized that he'd been fighting a fire that remained now burned into his mind, the memory of flames still flickering when the last of the physical had gone out. He blinked, felt tears edge his eyelashes, and set the fire extinguisher down. Glancing around, Scott noticed Doctor K also circling the wreck, her eyes focused on the ground. Gulping, Scott finally approached the truck itself, pulling his shirt up over his nose and mouth as he moved even closer and the smell of super-heated steel threatened to overwhelm him.
Scott's heart nearly stopped with some small hint of relief when he managed to get a good angle on the inside of the truck and saw no signs of a body, much less two. So they must have escaped, thank God, but how? And if they weren't here now, where were they?
Backing away from the wreck, Scott moved to Doctor K's side, where she knelt in the dirt beside the place where four sets of footprints converged. She placed her hand over one of the prints made by the smallest pair of shoes, and looked up at Scott with red-rimmed eyes. "These belong to Ziggy." She said, and Scott was surprised by how steady her voice was. "They spilled blood here, both of them. That's why the morphers led us here. The nearest example of their DNA."
Scott nodded and made a wide spiral around Doctor K, trying to read what he could see of the prints, what the wind and blasts of heat from the burning truck hadn't wiped away. The conclusion he came too left him feeling ill, and he circled back towards Doctor K. "Ziggy didn't walk away." His own voice sounded frightening to him, dejected and disheartened. She nodded, still staring at the spot where Scott figured Ziggy must have fallen.
Scott circled away again, allowing her the distance he knew she used to keep herself composed. On the other side of the wreck there were no remaining footprints, but there was a large patch of disturbed dust and, his stomach roiled at the thought, a few spatters of blood. Probably Flynn. Had he been in the truck when it exploded, or just near enough to be thrown by the force? The lone set of motorcycle tracks was nearby, curbing around near the wreck and then circling back the way they'd come. So one group of people had taken Ziggy in one direction, and a lone person on a motorcycle had presumably taken Flynn in a similar direction, but more Northerly. Were these strangers who had taken them from this terrible scene the greater evil Summer had spoken of in her last message?
Scott stood up from his examination of Flynn's remaining mark on the area and turned around. Doctor K was standing beside his car again, clearly ready to continue on. They had to find them. Scott gulped back the solid feeling closing his throat and went to her. Staring silently at one another for a moment, Doctor K was the first to break their momentary emotional gridlock, flinging her small body into his arms. He held her for a moment, at a loss, and was shocked to find himself crying, not hard, not sobbing, just silent tears of repressed emotion cutting tracks down his unwashed cheeks.
"Alright." Doctor K finally said, pulling away from him and rubbing her hands over her face, though the only hint that she was as emotionally drained as he was the redness in her eyes. "Come on. They can't have gotten far. We'll find them." She turned away and climbed into the car, pulling her computer into her lap and immediately typing away.
As Scott settled into the car, she looked at him with an encouraging smile, though it faded quickly. "I've already got a hit. Approximately one hundred miles, North West." Her voice sounded more excited than maybe it should, considering.
"What aren't you telling me, Doc?"
"It's not Series Blue and Green pinging. It's Blue and Yellow."
Ziggy woke up again, and he couldn't imagine how he'd even fallen asleep. The dry feeling of his tongue against the roof of his mouth, and the cottony haze that filled his mind and clouded his eyes when he opened them implied that they'd drugged him. Gross. And creepy.
Slowly his vision cleared and he looked around at his new surroundings. It reminded him of a prison cell, something he was unfortunately all too experienced with. But instead of bars with the guards visible through them, it was solid white-washed walls, very similar to the walls of the room he'd woken up in originally. He reached out to touch the wall he'd been curled up against, it felt plasticky and cool, which explained the gooseflesh on his bare arms.
Distracted by the new room, it took him until just then to notice that he'd been dressed in some kind of odd gray clothing that seemed like both nurse's scrubs and a hospital gown at once, though it felt just about as uncomfortable as such a contradiction should. His flesh crawled at the thought of strange robotic people, maybe in horrible vampire masks, stripping him naked while he was unconscious. It was horrible and wrong.
His hands were free, but there was a shackle around his left ankle, with a very solid-feeling chain attached to it, leading into the nearby corner where it melded seamlessly with the wall. It wasn't long, wouldn't let him reach the other side of the room, so he figured that must be where the door opened, though there was no outline or any indication to support this theory.
Ziggy crossed his arms and curled up on himself, shifting into an upright position and scooting back against the wall. His legs folded awkwardly under him, but it was better than letting the chain and shackle dig into his skin or cut off his circulation.
He looked around the room again, trying to take in anything that might help him to escape. If he was right about the door he'd have to find a way out of the shackle to make a break for it. If there was one trait Ziggy had it was a fierce sense of self-preservation. It had usually manifested with him running away from threats, but it was effective in that way and gave him an uncanny ability to learn odd skills that could help him out of a pinch, like picking locks, or dislocating a thumb to slip out of a handcuff. He didn't think that little trick would work with feet though, and there was no physical evidence of a lock on the shackle. He didn't have anything to pick a lock with anyway. He'd have to wait, wait for the woman from the other room to come talk to him again.
Unless they just drugged him to get him from place to place. His mental state spiraled quickly from there as he considered how they must administer the drugs. He could refuse to eat or drink, he could struggle if they tried to force pills or a syringe on him, but what if they just gassed the room? No chance to escape then.
His eyes finally settled on the black lens of a camera set in the nearly featureless ceiling. Looking up towards the light that way made him squint, but he couldn't stop or look away. He just stared at the camera until the light made him sneeze, then kept right at it as his nose started to tickle again.
"You won't break me. You won't get anything out of me." He said to the empty room, his voice defiant despite how weak it was, how small the volume.
"I'm not scared of you."
They'd finally gotten on their way, and Dillon was glad to be on the road again, even if it was in this loud clumsy machine, even though he had to leave the Fury behind, with Summer's solemn vow that no one would drive it.
While Buzzkill and King Korg had left the diner to load Buzzkill's motorcycle into the back of the truck, Dillon had gone to wake Tenaya and tell her where he was going. She had taken it well enough, understanding better than any his need to do whatever he could to help his friends.
He'd spent so long looking for her, battling guilt that was his last remaining link to his forgotten life, it was hard for him to leave. He knew he had to do it, but when he held her in a tight hug and she returned the gesture familiarly, his throat had closed and he hadn't been able to say the fateful words. No actual good-bye passed between them, and he hoped he wouldn't regret it. Hoped he'd be back before she even noticed any marked difference brought about by his absence. He trusted Summer to watch out for her, and Show Pony seemed to have taken a liking to her as well. She'd be fine.
Buzzkill sat in the back seat of the extended cab with him, humming and drumming his fingers on his leg, as if he hadn't a care in the world. He was certainly an odd kind of guy.
"What can you tell me about Battery City?" Dillon asked after they'd been on the road for half an hour or so.
Buzzkill looked at him, then shrugged. "It's kind of hard to explain if you've never been there." He said carefully. "I mean, I'm pretty sure it's not like anything you're used to."
Dillon thought about Corinth, thought about fighting beside his friends to defend the city. "No, probably not."
Buzzkill smirked at him, then leaned forward, over the center of the seat. King Korg glanced at him in the rear view mirror. "What do you want?"
Buzzkill stuck his hand in King Korg's face and wiggled his fingers. "Lemme see your ID."
King Korg rolled his eyes, but he reached to grab something off his dash, passing it to Buzzkill who in turn passed it to Dillon. It wasn't like his own Corinth ID as a member of the Defense Force, or like the less-embellished Corinth Citizen ID like the one Ziggy had shown him once upon a time. It was three cards in a folded case, each card identifying King Korg's real name as Dewees, James. The first one had pictures of King Korg, the second card listed all the basic information you'd expect to find on any kind of identification card, including an address that looked like gibberish to Dillon. The third card was the one that sent a chill down Dillon's spine. It described tiny, inconsequential details of King Korg's appearance, scars and identifying markings as specific as the small gap between his front teeth.
Dillon looked up to find Buzzkill watching his examination of the Battery City Citizen ID. He handed it back, and Buzzkill leaned over the seat to toss it back onto the dash. King Korg grunted at him and Buzzkill patted his shoulder before settling back into his seat.
"That's what Battery City is like. Controlled. No one gets in or out without one of those. Everyone is assigned a job, and pretty much everyone does it without question. The food and water are strictly monitored, and the majority of it is drugged." Buzzkill waved one hand at Dillon's shocked look. "It just makes people more willing to follow orders. It's sick and wrong, but you don't rail against it. You can't, because the second the authorities get word of someone preaching, that person's gone. Literally gone, as in never seen again."
Dillon actually despaired for a minute. "How are you going to find anything out?"
"We have our own channels. We're not treated quite the same as the majority of Citizens. We have to be able to think for ourselves to some degree, because we're trusted with going out into the Zones to work. It's risky, but we can ask questions and get answers without getting noticed. If your friend has just been integrated into the City, we'll find them and we'll make preparations to get them out of the City. It's possible, just not easy."
Dillon sighed. He had a bad feeling about how cavalier Buzzkill was being. It couldn't be that easy. "What if they're not just in the City?"
Buzzkill bit his lip. "That's a little trickier. If someone was brought in as a criminal or a hostage, they'll be in Battery City Headquarters, and getting in there is pretty much impossible. We'd need a pretty impressive attack force, and we can't risk all the Killjoys like that." Buzzkill nudged Dillon's arm. "But we'll figure something out."
"We'd better." Dillon growled, turning to look out the window as they drove. Buzzkill apparently decided to leave him to brood, and settled back into his seat and his pattern of humming.
As the day wore on, the Killjoys came and went, always in pairs. Doctor Death Defying never left the diner, and Show Pony never went further than a few paces outside. He'd gotten into the habit of taking Tenaya with him when he scouted, and it made Summer feel better about this ridiculous situation, that Tenaya was making a friend. She stood by the door one of these times and eavesdropped as Show Pony described some of the graffiti to Tenaya. It was very sweet.
All four of the Killjoys were out when Flynn finally woke up, and Summer panicked for a second, not having Jet Star to turn to and assure her that he was okay. Flynn was gasping, as if his shallow breath for the past day and a half hadn't been enough. Summer held his arms like she was holding him down, but he wasn't struggling, just taking deep shuddering breaths and keeping his eyes well shut.
"Flynn." She whispered once he'd calmed down a bit, and finally he opened his eyes and looked up at her.
"Summer?" He sounded surprised to have found here there, and she moved her hands to hold both of his, squeezing them and turning her head away so he wouldn't see the tears in her eyes.
"What's going on?" His accent was thick, and his voice soft. He struggled to sit up and Summer composed herself before turning back to help him. Once he was sitting, Summer just stared at him for a moment, so happy that he was alive and awake and Flynn. Then she threw her arms around him and held him tight, mindful as she could be of the bandages on his arm and side. He hesitated for a moment before returning the hug, patting her back awkwardly, clearly confused as to this reaction.
"You're okay." She finally said, pulling back and just looking at him again. "You're alright. We were so worried."
"We?" He looked around the diner, his brow creasing in confusion. "Where are we? Summer?"
She followed his gaze around the diner, which was mostly empty. Tenaya and Show Pony must be outside again. Doctor Death Defying was sitting at his broadcasting station, sitting back as he played a song for the airwaves.
"Flynn, what happened?" She asked, not quite ready to explain the Killjoys, not when Flynn was so obviously still just a bit out of it.
"I don't remember." He said slowly, then his eyes widened. "Ziggy! Did ye find Ziggy?"
Summer's heart sank. So she and Dillon had been right in their guess. Ziggy had come with Flynn to try and find them, and now Ziggy was possibly lost. She didn't think Dillon would ever quite recover if they didn't manage to get Ziggy back.
"No." She answered Flynn, moving to sit beside him on the table. "No, we didn't find him. Dillon's going to try and find out where he went."
Flynn sighed heavily and placed his face in his hands, then sat up again, his fingers gently brushing against the bandages. "My face." He mumbled.
Summer put an arm around his shoulders and rubbed his arm gently. "Jet Star says it's probably not going to scar." She offered encouragingly, but all she got in return was a blank stare from Flynn.
"And who in Odin's name is Jet Star supposed to be?"
She laughed at herself. She'd already gotten so used to being in their presence, it didn't even seem odd to her anymore. "You'll meet him. They're kind of taking care of us for a little while, letting us stay here where it's safe."
Summer nodded. "The, uh, Killjoys."
Flynn blinked, then sat back again, still touching at the bandage on his face. "You've got a lot of explaining to do, missy."
Summer turned to smile at him, then stood up to go retrieve him a bottle of water. "We've got some time."
They left him in a cave. Sincerely thankful that they'd even acquiesced to taking him this near the City, Dillon helped them both unload Buzzkill's motorcycle from the back of the truck. They didn't enter the City together, in theory the Waste Removal Department and the Surveyors didn't interact, or so King Korg explained it. They knew about this cave because sometimes they spent the night here before heading into the City, since absolutely no one, with a reason or without, was to leave or enter the City at night. Buzzkill assured Dillon that this didn't mean that the entrances weren't manned. There was always security.
King Korg gave Buzzkill another one of his crushing hugs before climbing back into the truck and heading towards the City. Buzzkill took the time to get Dillon comfortable, showing him how the main thoroughfare into the City was blocked from view by the ridge that the cave descended into.
"Can't see it from the road either. Dracs don't even know it exists, and no Zone Rat would be stupid enough to try and squat this close to the City." Buzzkill smirked at him and Dillon rolled his eyes. He was getting used to the constant intimations that he was crazy, and it never bothered him in the first place.
Buzzkill left not long after King Korg had, and Dillon took up a position atop the ridge, lying flat on the ground and watching the incongruous paved road that led down to a tunnel that blocked any better view. He could see what must be the City in the distance, brightly gleaming buildings, and assumed the tunnel went underground into the center of the City. Buzzkill had told him that Battery City wasn't domed, but that it still boasted an impressive cylindrical force field that surrounded it entirely without a physical structure as a guide. The only way in that didn't involve flying was the tunnel Dillon was watching now.
There wasn't a lot of traffic in and out of the City. Motorcycles like the kind Buzzkill rode, presumably people in the same profession as he. Trucks, not just silver ones like King Korg's but white ones and the occasional black one. It was too far away for Dillon to read the logos on the sides of these trucks, but he imagined they must be do a similar kind of work.
The only other traffic was small crews, these noticeable as the most frequent up and down the road. A single car, invariably black, and always flanked by exactly two motorcycles. From what he'd gathered, these must be the Exterminators every one of the Killjoys spoke of with fear. Buzzkill had explained that they were the primary police force outside the City, members of an organization Buzzkill called Scarecrow.
No one ever walked. Dillon noticed that readily enough.
So focused was Dillon the road, thinking that he'd caught a sight of Buzzkill roaring up the road towards the tunnel, he didn't even notice he'd been found out. He'd grown too trusting of Buzzkill, had believed him fully that this cave was never checked out by City forces.
Dillon hoped the Exterminators everyone feared were a lot more careful than whoever had found the cave and decided to check it out. These people - Dillon didn't move from his flat position atop the ridge, hoping he was invisible to them - they were loud and chatty and obviously didn't think much of their orders to hike all the way out here. He knew, because they were talking about it, about how Korse (whoever that was) was being too paranoid, that no one had ever been seen in this cave, not even City people.
Dillon took a slow breath, and not for the first time he felt a longing for the familiar weight of his morpher on his wrist. Here he had a great chance to get information, but there were at least three different tones of voices behind and beneath him, two men and one woman, and he wasn't entirely sure if he could subdue them without killing them, at least not quickly enough to avoid getting a blaster shot to the face.
As Dillon lie there and listened to their examination of the cave and the surrounding area, and then their excitement as his and Buzzkill's footprints revealed themselves, he considered his options. He could try to climb down the far side of the ridge, but that would put himself visible to the road, with his dark clothes. He could try to fight the three of them, but if they didn't return, another crew would probably come in their place.
Dillon felt a tiny pang of guilt after his next thought. He could turn himself in to them, and let them take him back to the City. Chances were, with his ID around his neck, they'd take him to wherever they took Ziggy (or Scott, or Gemma, or whoever had come with Flynn).
This was easily the best option, and Dillon thought a silent apology towards Buzzkill before he stood up and spread his arms. "Hey!"
He had warned Buzzkill that he was going to gather his own information. Dillon had given himself up to the enemy as a distraction before, and it had worked out very well for him that time.
Of course, Dillon thought as the three people in brutal masks drew blasters and surrounded him, Tenaya wasn't inside the City, working towards the same goal as he was. No one would even know he had been caught until the day he owed Buzzkill was up, unless Buzzkill got word of the new fugitive through one of his channels.
They cuffed Dillon's hands behind his back and pushed him down onto his knees, all leveling their blasters at him as they considered their options.
"I'm not fucking carrying him," one of them finally declared. "He's huge. He can walk."
Decided, they urged Dillon back to his feet and marched him down the path around the ridge and towards the City tunnel.
Dillon didn't believe in a higher power, but he prayed anyway.
"There's a car coming!" Show Pony was practically shouting, or at least he'd raised his voice louder than Summer had ever heard it. Show Pony came inside, Tenaya on his heels, and went directly to Doctor Death Defying, who set his headphones on the table and looked up at him.
"You didn't recognize it?"
Show Pony shook his head. "But it's not from the City. It's red."
"Red?" Summer asked, though she didn't wait for an answer. She stood up, her conversation with Jet Star all but forgotten as she headed for the door.
Flynn had recovered quite well over the course of the day since he'd woken up. He could walk around without assistance and his injuries were healing well, and as soon as Party Poison and Kobra Kid had returned from one of their trips, Flynn had accosted the redhead and grilled him about the sorry state of his car. They'd befriended each other quickly despite Flynn's insults to Party Poison's prized possession, and had spent just about every moment since trading places, one of them leaning into the open hood, the other beneath the chassis. Summer didn't really know what they were doing, but she spent some time outside with them and Jet Star, working on Jet Star's motorcycle.
All of them were doing their best not to worry about Dillon, Buzzkill and King Korg. The Killjoys were confident enough in their friends, but no one was quite sure whether bringing Dillon along had been for the best.
Summer stood just outside the diner, squinting into the distance towards a very familiar car. Her heart leaped and she stepped further out, meeting Flynn between the Killjoy's car and the Fury. He was wiping his hands on a greasy cloth, and he was smiling, the first real smile Summer had seen on him since he woke up. So she wasn't imagining it, hoping against hope, and she slowly allowed herself to smile as Scott's car drew ever closer.
She glanced behind her to find Jet Star and Party Poison both standing defensively in front of the door to the diner, blasters drawn. She couldn't help but laugh at their caution, and turned to face them. "It's okay! We know them."
Party Poison frowned, and Jet Star actually rolled his eyes, which surprised her. He was usually very accepting.
"More people from Corinth?" Party Poison asked.
"You're certainly coming out of the woodwork." Jet Star added, though he did holster his blaster and take a step away from the door. Party Poison didn't move.
Scott's car pulled up beside the Fury and he flew out of the driver's side door, running full tilt towards them. The three ex-Rangers met in a fierce group hug that lasted until Flynn finally gave a little groan and Summer pulled away, dragging Scott with her as the Scot rubbed at the still healing burn on his arm.
"Sorry." Flynn apologized, but he couldn't keep his smile off his face.
"It's so good to see you guys." Scott was almost laughing with relief. He turned towards his car and Summer realized that Doctor K was with him. That was shocking enough, but more surprising was the silver case she was carrying with both arms.
"Ranger Red," She called. "Could you please retrieve my computer? Ranger Yellow, Ranger Blue, we're very glad to find you alive. These brightly colored individuals are friends of yours, I hope? May we retire inside? It has been a long, perilous trip and we have much to talk about."
Scott pulled back, but not before grabbing Flynn's good arm with a tight grip and giving Summer another quick hug. Then he returned to the car, and Summer went to Doctor K, giving her a tight hug despite the silver case digging into her hip. "You came all the way out here for us?"
"And for Ziggy." She stated solemnly, looking up at Summer. She had familiar dark circles under her eyes, the trip had obviously taken a toll on her. Summer wanted to know how they'd found their way here, she wanted to know everything, but first to get them all inside. While Doctor K wasn't actually allergic to sunlight, she was still quite unaccustomed to it.
"Come inside." Summer said, leading Doctor K towards the diner. Flynn waited for Scott, then followed suit.
Inside, the two Killjoys standing nervously aside until Doctor K approached them.
"My name is K. You have obviously befriended and accepted my Rangers into your group, and for that I am grateful, and count you as friends. Please, join us."
Doctor Death Defying rolled his chair over, and Show Pony followed him. Summer noticed they left Tenaya at the broadcast station, and she sat there with Doctor Death's headphones on, listening to the broadcasts like Show Pony usually did. Summer wondered at this, but they were all positive thoughts, pleased that Tenaya had found someplace to feel useful. Radio work was not something that required the sense of sight.
Doctor K turned to meet Doctor Death and they regarded each other solemnly, as though their shared title gave them a peculiar understanding, though neither knew the other's name.
"Where's Dillon?" Scott asked after they'd all settled down. Summer looked down, and Flynn frowned. She'd explained the situation to Flynn and he'd been particularly vocal about how stupid Dillon was being, if getting too near the City was such a big risk.
"What about Ziggy?" Doctor K continued for him, staring particularly at Flynn. Now it was Flynn's turn to look down to avoid her gaze. He felt guilty for the losing him, though he'd been unconscious during the entire presumed attack, and couldn't even tell who had destroyed his truck so thoroughly, much less where they might have taken Ziggy.
"It's a long story." Doctor Death Defying finally stated for them, in that no-nonsense voice he had, the smooth kind of voice that you simply had to trust. That was why the Killjoys rallied around him. "And everyone has a part to tell." He glanced up towards the clock that ticked away on the wall, battery powered as almost everything in the diner was. "We won't be expecting them back for another fifteen hours at least, so we've got plenty of time to tell it."
Dillon did his best not to struggle as his captors marched him down into the tunnel to a security checkpoint, where they stopped and held him at gunpoint as they waited for a car. Dillon wasn't sure how long the tunnel was, but it must be a bit further than they were willing to walk.
The car came quickly, and the masked men shoved him into the back, kicking him onto the floor so two of them could sit in the back seat without having to subject themselves to sitting beside their hostage. The drive felt quite a bit longer to Dillon, all tangled up on the floor like that, his arms twisted uncomfortably behind his back, but he continued not to struggle. He wanted them to think him harmless, he didn't need to be completely incapacitated when he was trying to gather information.
Dillon noticed the decided difference in the quality of light filtering in through the car windows, not to mention the quality of air. They'd come up from the tunnel, then a short drive had led them into another that angled sharply down. He wasn't sure where they were going, but if Buzzkill had been telling him the truth, then they were going to Battery City Headquarters, the place Buzzkill assured him no one escaped from.
No one had ever run the Venjix barricade in broad daylight either, but he had. Twice. Dillon often considered such impossibilities as mere challenges. It was the best way to prove himself.
The car stopped, Dillon could hear the fuel injection system shutting down as easily as he heard the engine stop running. The two sitting on the seat above him climbed out, and he listened carefully as one of them started talking to another person with a vaguely robotic voice. The other dragged Dillon out of the back of the car, and he very nearly struggled by reflex, but now was not the time to get himself knocked out. He needed to see where they ended up taking him.
Dillon stood up straight, he allow himself that defiance, even if it only lasted a second before one of his captors was kicking him in the back of the knee with a force that Dillon hadn't felt since a Venjix Attackbot. Were these people mechanically enhanced, as he was? That would make escape a little more difficult.
But not impossible. Nothing was impossible, not for him.
He stayed on one knee as the three that had caught him surrounded him, and looked up at the fourth, a woman with dull red hair, dressed in a lab coat. He glared at her, but didn't make a sound. She looked down at him and rolled her eyes, clearly unimpressed.
"Where do you want him?" One of the masked men was asking.
"Korse is getting out of control. I don't have any empty cells available."
The female standing directly behind him scoffed behind her mask. "You tell him that, then. We just follow orders."
The lab coat looked him over again, then leaned down to lift his Corinth ID from around his neck. "Another one of these? Useless, the other one hasn't told us anything useful." She rolled her eyes, but didn't return his ID, she clipped it instead to the clipboard she was carrying. "Put them together, see if I care. Maybe they'll talk amongst themselves and reveal something useful."
"Get up." One of them kicked Dillon in the small of his back and he stumbled awkwardly to his feet, not having use of his arms to lift or balance. "What cell?"
The woman with the clipboard was already walking away. "Nine."
"You keeping it pretty close, then."
The woman didn't respond, and the other three laughed derisively behind her back. "Science types thing they're so much better. Come on, drifter. They seem to think you've got a friend in here."
Dillon marched along amongst them, aware that even without their blasters actually pointed at him, they could probably draw them and drop him faster than even his incredible reflexes could react. They didn't have far to move down the relatively featureless hallway before they stopped in front of an unmarked door. How they knew this one to be cell nine was unclear to him, but he didn't think it mattered in the long run. He wasn't going to be trying to get back, he just had to get out, with someone in tow.
Dillon watched as the one leading the way leaned near the wall, and he saw a small flash of light at the same time as he flashed an ID card hanging from the front of his shirt. Retinal scan and an ID. If getting out required the same precautions, Dillon would need a hostage of his own before long.
They led him into a featureless white room, gathered close around him and shoving him quickly into a corner, knocking him down. They didn't seem willing to let him even think about trying to struggle, despite the fact that he hadn't led them to believe he would anyway. They might be smarter than they seemed, but Dillon wasn't planning to escape before he figured out who he had to escape with.
They slid a shackle of some type around Dillon's left ankle, it must have come out of the plain wall, where the short chain led and melded seamlessly. He did struggle slightly this time, though only on reflex, and only when he realized that they were all three backing away without removing the cuffs holding his arms behind his back. This was getting more difficult.
The door slid shut silently and Dillon grumbled, unable to sit up with his arms locked behind him. He heard someone moving behind him, but it must be the other prisoner. The other person from Corinth. Dillon's heart shuddered in his chest when cold fingers traced the handcuffs around his wrists. Dillon turned his head, and his heart finally gave up, skipping several beats and then relocating to resume its action painfully in his throat. He couldn't move, didn't speak, until the handcuffs fell away, clattering in the oppressive silence of the room.
Dillon turned around slowly, and Ziggy sat there, legs folded under him, dressed oddly and looking extremely malnourished. Dark circles under his eyes indicated that he hadn't slept in too long, and a bandage on the side of his neck made Dillon's blood boil. Someone had hurt him, and now they were neglecting him. Ziggy's eyes were hazy, only half-focused, and when he smiled it was a purely Ziggy smile, but halfhearted.
"Okay." He said, turning away from Dillon to stare up towards the ceiling. Dillon glanced how he did and saw that Ziggy was addressing a camera. How long had he been in this room, with no one to talk to but a silent machine? "Nice try, but I'm not that stupid." Ziggy's voice was soft, but it still held a hint of joking amusement about it, familiar to Dillon in a way that made all sorts of feelings he'd denied for a very long time now start to stir. "Dillon wouldn't ever get caught. You should have tried with Flynn."
"Ziggy." Dillon spoke softly, hoping that maybe the camera wouldn't hear him. "Ziggy, it's me."
Ziggy's head rotated slowly down from staring at the camera, and he stared blankly at Dillon instead, his dry chapped lips soundlessly forming Dillon's name.
They moved in the same instant, their respective chains each dragging along the floor in a positive cacophony in the heady silence of the room. Dillon grasped Ziggy's thin arms, and Ziggy's hands found the front of Dillon's coat and clutched at it until his knuckles went white. And then they were kissing, and later neither of them would remember who started it, or why it seemed like a good idea to continue it, and neither of them would admit that they'd maybe thought about it before.
But at that moment, they did it, and it was good enough that they didn't care about the camera watching.
They talked most of the night. Kobra Kid and Fun Ghoul showed up at one point and everything stopped to make the new round of introductions before they went right back to exchanging tales of the very different experiences each coast went through in the days and months after the war.
Summer was mostly quiet. She preferred to sit back and listen. Jet Star sat with her, and while he participated a little more than she did in the conversation, he also took the time to give Flynn another check up and replace his bandages.
Doctor K kept her computer on the table in front of her, still interacting with it as she spoke of Corinth and the history behind the Venjix virus. Summer noticed that she didn't mention Project Ranger, not specifically anyway, though she kept the case Summer knew to hold the morphers at her feet. She wondered if this was some deeply ingrained military trait, aware that the majority of the technology behind Project Ranger was hyper-classified. Following her lead, none of the other Rangers mentioned that particular part they played in the continued defense of Corinth.
Doctor Death Defying spoke of their movement in the desert wastes they called Zones, how they were more of a guerrilla group of dissenters, far from any kind of capable majority. Explaining Draculoids caused a bit of a stir, as Doctor K requested each Killjoy to explain his interactions with the foot soldiers of Battery City. She seemed satisfied after, explaining that she suspected them to be enhanced with robotics.
"If your Better Living Industries is working with pirated Venjix technology, which I believe they are, then they are nothing my team can't handle."
The Killjoys generally didn't seem to believe her, but Jet Star gave Summer an appraising look.
"I can fight." She assured him, and he smiled.
"I don't doubt it." Jet Star admitted. Summer found herself blushing slightly and turned away to hide her face in the gloom.
The night was generally positive, having gradually turned towards planning an invasion of the City. All of the Killjoys agreed that such an action was futile, but they also all seemed ready to get out and cause some commotion, willing to accompany the Rangers in an attempted rescue of their friend.
"We can't guarantee anything." Party Poison explained. "But we're willing to give the City a good shake down. It'll be fun."
The gathering ended on a sour note with the arrival of Buzzkill, several hours before he was expected, and alone.
He stormed into the Diner, stopping just inside the door to take off his helmet and throw it across the diner in a rage. Scott was on his feet first, followed a split second later by Kobra Kid and Party Poison.
"What is it?" Doctor Death Defying asked calmly, ever the voice of reason.
"Where's Dillon?" Summer followed up, also rising and moving to stand beside Scott. Flynn followed her and she felt very secure in that moment with her team around her, ready to hear the bad news they were sure was coming.
"They got him." Buzzkill growled, standing very still but giving the impression of moving with his heaving breaths. Summer could only imagine how hard he must have been riding. "I heard third hand that some Dracs had brought in another prisoner from the wastes, at personal request from Korse. I checked by the cave... Sure enough, he was gone, not even a sign of a struggle." Buzzkill finally stormed across the diner to strike a table with his fist. "Was he always that reckless?"
"Yes." Summer said, and she heard Flynn, Scott, Tenaya and even Doctor K echoing her sentiment. She couldn't help but smirk.
Flynn spoke up next. "So what do we do now?"
"We go after them, both of them." Scott answered without bothering to consult anyone else. "And we get them out."
"You missed the part where it's impossible," Buzzkill sneered. "You have no idea what they're capable of."
"But we're doing it." This came from an unexpected source. Jet Star stepped forward to address the Killjoys. "Right?"
"Yeah!" Fun Ghoul chimed in. Summer got the impression that Fun Ghoul was always ready for a fight of any sort.
"And how exactly are we going to pull this off?" Buzzkill sighed, obviously exasperated with the lot of them.
Scott turned towards Party Poison, who he felt had some kind of leadership over the others. They exchanged a meaningful glance and a smirk.
The Killjoys jumped to preparing for their siege on the City with gusto that belied their very vocal and repeated disbelief of any chance of success. Doctor K used the commotion to pull her Rangers aside and open the case holding their morphers.
Summer stared at the little machines for a minute, her heart thumping loudly in her ears. She'd been fairly sure after the defeat of Venjix that she'd never feel the power again. Scott's was already missing from the center of the case.
Flynn didn't hesitate, taking the Series Blue morpher out and flipping it around familiarly in his palm.
"Like riding a bike, innit?" He said softly to himself. Doctor K actually smiled.
"Yes, Ranger Blue, I believe the phrase is second nature."
Summer took her morpher. The rev morphers, Series Black and Series Green, on either side of the three empty spots looked oddly lonely. "Should we bring them?"
Doctor K hesitated, then closed the case. "I'm afraid not. We don't know what Operator Series Black and Operator Series Green have been through in their captivity. They may be weak, too weak to control their suits. Bring them back safely, and then we'll see."
Scott nodded and slipped his morpher back into his pocket, having taking it out in solidarity with the others.
"I'll drive the Fury." Summer said softly.
"Dillon will drive it back." Scott assured her, and they turned as one to leave the diner. Doctor K moved across the room to where she had set up two of her computers near Doctor Death Defying's broadcast station.
"I'll be keeping an eye on your vitals once you morph. Good luck, Rangers. You have always made me proud."
Tenaya met Summer at the door, pulling her into a quick hug. "Bring him back." Her voice was tight with nerves, possibly unshed tears, and Summer definitely understood.
"There's not a place on this Earth that can withstand the Power Rangers." Summer whispered reassuringly into Tenaya's ear before she pulled away. Tenaya let her go willingly.
"Come on, Summer!" Scott called from the doorway. She glanced around and noticed how empty the diner seemed, considering they were leaving five people behind, and only seven of them were going.
Summer was at the door when she found herself being pushed back in. Jet Star looked over his shoulder and Summer peeked around him to see Flynn and Party Poison making the rounds of all three cars, checking for last minute problems that, found now could save them a load of trouble later. Glancing back over her own shoulder, Summer saw those staying behind all busy with something or other, as if they'd gotten some silent signal from Jet Star to divert their attention.
He seemed nervous, and not in an 'I'm about to die' way, which left her all the more confused when he grabbed her arms and pulled her close. The last thing Summer had ever expected, or realized she wanted, was a kiss from the tall Killjoy, but there it was, everything it should be. It made her heart feel like it was trembling, and pressed as she was against Jet Star's chest she could feel his heart pounding quickly, almost in time with her own.
Gasping, they pulled apart.
"What was that?" Summer asked, two fingers brushing against her lips like she could feel the lingering touch of his mouth on hers.
"For luck." He replied sheepishly, ducking his head. Her heart had an odd flutter again and she reached for his hand, just gripping for a moment before pulling away, afraid to ruin the moment.
"For you, or for me?"
He smiled, but made no other reply.
"You two coming or what?" Fun Ghoul shouted from outside, and with a knowing glance, they went to join their companions, both all the more ready to succeed and fast, so as to get back and talk about these feelings properly.
But Summer thought she knew where that talk would go, and she was surprised to find she didn't mind in the slightest.
Summer was glad she was alone in the Fury, bringing up the rear of their little caravan. They drove fast down a relatively well-kept paved road, the Killjoys leading the way with Scott's car right behind them. She needed the alone time to reflect on her thoughts, and to rehearse some things she knew she was going to have to say. Mostly to Jet Star, but she had a feeling that conversation was going to be a lot easier and go a lot better than the one she was going to have to have with Doctor K and the others afterward.
Scott's taillights flashed and she slowed down as Scott pulled up beside the Killjoys where they'd stopped in the road. Then Scott was getting out of the car, Flynn right behind him. Summer shut the engine of the Fury and hastened to join them.
"Party Poison says there's a barricade inside the tunnel."
Summer looked down the road where it dipped suddenly down into the earth.
"He says we could run it in the cars, but I think we could be a little more effective." As he spoke, there were already people pouring out of the tunnel, white-clad bodies mostly wearing feature concealing masks.
"What's the word?" Party Poison called from his car, their engine the only one still idling. Scott pulled out his morpher and held it reverently before him. Flynn and Summer followed suit.
"For Dillon and Ziggy." He said solemnly. Summer nodded and Flynn let out a whoop.
"Let's get 'em!"
The three rangers tore off towards the tunnel on foot, and behind them the Killjoys spilled out of their car in pursuit.
They stopped nearly a hundred yards from the entrance to the tunnel. Summer felt a familiar thrill run through her as Scott held his morpher out beside his ear.
"Ready!" Came the answering call as Summer and Flynn lifting their morphers into the same position.
They Killjoys fanned out behind the Rangers, blessedly several yards back, hesitating at their new friends' odd behavior.
After a pregnant pause and a thrill that ran through the three rangers, they broke their momentary stale-mate, just as the first wave of Draculoids reached firing distance.
"R.P.M. Get in gear!"
"Ziggy, stop. Stop! You're hurting yourself, buddy, come on."
Ziggy shook his head, the alarms blaring through the entire building infiltrating his head and making it pound in time with his heartbeat. Curled up in his corner, he twisted the shackle around his ankle again, cutting into his skin and drawing blood. Dillon strained at the end of his own chain, reaching for Ziggy who was just an arm's length too far away.
"I can do it." Ziggy muttered under his breath. He dragged the shackle around his ankle once more, his hands slipping with his own blood. The pain served only to sharpen his senses.
"Better Living Industries is under siege," a calm voice rang out again from the walls and ceiling. A pre-recorded alarm message. "Alpha squadron proceed to step three- subdue prisoners."
"Ziggy." Dillon implored wildly, aware even if Ziggy wasn't that they were in cell nine and probably pretty close to having company of the armed and angry sort.
Ziggy remained singularly focused, regretfully tuning out Dillon's increasingly violent admonishing. He had his foot awkwardly in his lap, pointing his toes, straining until his calf felt like it was on fire. The shackle holding him down slipped, lubricated by blood and sweat, inching past the protruding bone of his ankle. Ziggy paused, taking a deep breath and closing his eyes as he rotated his foot in his lap and focused on sliding the shackle, millimeter by grudging millimeter, around his heel. "Yes," He exulted quietly to himself. "Yes!"
The door slid open as quietly as ever, but the sound of marching in the hallway echoed painfully around the tiny room. The soldiers marching in weren't the men in vampire masks that Ziggy and Dillon had seen in the desert, but they were still masked, plain white with a creepy black smiling face over their features. They were all armed with large blaster rifles.
Dillon screamed as one of the soldiers turned to face Ziggy and took a step towards him. Ziggy was a pathetic sight, skinny and malnourished and badly dressed, exhausted and covered in his own blood. The soldier pointed the rifle into Ziggy's face.
"Hands up," came the muffled voice beneath the mask. Another solider edged closer to Dillon, blocking Ziggy from his sight. He didn't see Ziggy's smirk, but he heard his humorless laugh.
"Not going to work."
Dillon lashed out at the soldier in front of him, grabbing the front of the blaster and shoving it down. By sheer unadulterated luck, the discharge laser bolt ricocheted off the wall and onto the chain holding Dillon to the wall. The soldier took a stumbling step back as Dillon slowly rose to his feet, cracking his knuckles.
Fighting was not something you forgot how to do, even if you did have amnesia.
"Rules changed." Dillon smirked. He didn't usually go in for one liners, that was more Scott's territory, but desperate times called for desperate measures.
The soldier was scrambling at his belt, reaching for a walkie-talkie of some sort. Dillon lunged at him, his fist connecting solidly with the face behind his mask. Dillon grunted, satisfied at the unfamiliar but welcome sound of breaking bone. The man screamed and fell back against the wall, firing his blaster again. A red stain bloomed in the front of his mask, spreading alarmingly quickly when Dillon buried his fist into the man's stomach.
With one last motion, Dillon swept his leg out from beneath him and shoved him in the chest, slamming his head into the wall and leaving him motionless on the floor.
Dillon turned, taking his usual fighting stance, ready to defend Ziggy, only to find the former green ranger standing in front of him, swaying slightly, holding a blaster rifle.
Ziggy smiled and limped towards him. The solider that had been threatening him lie spread-eagled on the floor, writhing weakly. Not unconscious, but in enough pain to not currently be a threat. "You think I never learned anything, in all those training sessions?"
Dillon met Ziggy halfway across the room and caught him as Ziggy's legs went out from beneath him. "You're hurt."
"He's worse." Ziggy gestured slightly and tossed the blaster rifle away.
"I meant your foot."
Ziggy shrugged. "Nothing I can't handle. Really."
Dillon gave Ziggy a squeeze, and was pleased that Ziggy found enough strength to grip him back. "We have to get out of here."
Ziggy nodded and they headed towards the door, Dillon pausing to crouch down and sweep up one of the blaster rifles. Better to be armed, especially since Ziggy wasn't running anywhere any time soon.
"Who do you think is attacking them?" Ziggy asked as they peeked into the hallway to find it busy on either side, but relatively quiet in the middle where they were.
"No idea." Dillon grunted. "Maybe the Killjoys."
"Killjoys?" Ziggy laughed and shook his head. "You've been up to some stuff."
"Yeah, I have." Dillon smiled down at him, held close to his side, limping along, his face set against the pain he was obviously feeling. Dillon hefted the rifle with his other arm, aiming it down the hallway. "I'll tell you all about it when we get out."
The Killjoys had hesitated as a group behind their new friends fanning out on the road. After a few shouts that sounded more or less like nonsense to the Killjoys, they all found themselves taking a few rapid steps back when an explosion that was more fire than concussion bloomed out across the road.
"What the fuck is that?" Fun Ghoul shouted. The fire had barely started to clear before he was moving forward, Jet Star right at his side. They both slowed down from a run to a jog to a slow walk when the flames flickered out, finding nothing to gain purchase on, no fuel to feed them.
The three were changed, dressed in neon-bright primary colors that made the Killjoys positively drab in comparison. The Draculoids had met them, undeterred by the odd explosion that they might have even caused. Now a near army of Draculoids and other Better Living soldiers was engaged in a fight that would better be described as a no-rule brawl.
"What..." Jet Star muttered, glancing towards Fun Ghoul, who shrugged in response.
"We should still help them," Kobra Kid pointed out, drawing his blaster.
"Oh. Yeah!" Fun Ghoul's faced turned back to his typical devil-may-care expression and he drew his own, dashing into the fray firing with fairly reckless abandon.
The first wave of soldiers fell quickly, despite their numbers, and the Rangers moved forward down the road, the Killjoys backing them up. Another wave of soldiers fanned out of the tunnel as they reached the entrance, and Summer spread her arms. "Back up," she shouted, shifting into a stance familiar to the Rangers, who moved to stand behind her, gathering the Killjoys along with them as they went.
Summer could feel the familiar power running through her, tempered with her intense devotion to her team, the hallmark of her position as Series Yellow. She had no fear as she tapped into the suit's ability, calling her attack as a verbal trigger.
Very similar to the energy runoff explosion that had accompanied the morph, the blast took the form of brilliant flames, pushing through the Draculoids and continuing through the tunnel, triggering a small explosion when it reached the security check-point midway down the length.
Summer turned around and waved her arm. "Come on!"
Scott nodded, and Jet Star did the same. The group moved forward as a unit, running through the tunnel, stopping occasionally to fight the whatever forces sent to stop them.
At the end of the tunnel it rose sharply into the center of Battery City, and Fun Ghoul took a moment to laugh, somewhat hysterically. "This shouldn't be this easy!"
Party Poison paused, looking around. "It isn't. It can't be. Where is he?"
"Who?" Scott asked, skidding by them after a particularly close-range shot to the chest.
"Korse," Kobra Kid answered tersely, shooting down the Draculoid pursuing Scott.
"He must be in the HQ." Party Poison said, moving across the well-manicured courtyard now strewn with bodies.
"Who is this Korse?" Scott asked, walking beside Party Poison, the rest of the group falling into a comfortably mixed formation behind them.
"He's an Exterminator, one of the worst. Big guy, bald head, pure evil, and possibly a cyborg."
"Oh." Scott smiled beneath his helmet, reaching to pat Party Poison's shoulder. "No big deal then."
Party Poison frowned at him, but with a glance back at the carnage they'd left behind them, he had to agree.
Dillon and Ziggy made their way through the halls, stopping to shoot or fight when the need presented itself. Sometimes Ziggy participated, throwing punches and falling into his comfortable partnership with Dillon, but more often Dillon had to lean Ziggy against a wall and protect him. The underground complex was a labyrinth, and Dillon found himself turned around more than once until they had gone in either a full circle or completely backtracked until they were standing outside cell nine again.
"Damn." Dillon cursed as Ziggy peered into the cell to see it completely unchanged. The Draculoid he'd assaulted had passed out at some point.
"Now what?" Ziggy asked.
"You sure you have no idea which way to go?" Dillon returned, slipping his arm around Ziggy's waist again, leading him down the hallway once more, this leg of the escape the one part he knew for sure.
Ziggy shook his head. "I've only seen the two rooms." He smiled weakly up at Dillon. "I was just slightly unconscious when they moved me."
"Alright." Dillon paused at the end of the hallway and looked around. This floor of the complex was growing increasingly deserted, save the unconscious bodies Dillon had left in his wake. There was one person moving at the end of a much longer hallway, and Ziggy pointed.
Dillon shrugged. "Maybe. Shall we find out?"
As they moved down the hallway, the man at the end stopped and turned to stare at them. Ziggy pulled back, hauling on Dillon's arm. "No."
Dillon stopped and Ziggy shrunk back against the wall. The man at the end of the hall moved towards them, a singularly frightening smirk on his face. Dillon backed up to stand in front of Ziggy, pointing the blaster rifle at their new opponent. "Back off." Dillon demanded. The man shook his head.
Ziggy grabbed Dillon's free arm, his fingertips digging into Dillon. "It's him, he did this. He killed Flynn!"
Dillon glanced back at Ziggy, his eyebrows furrowing in concern for Ziggy's sudden mental decline. "Flynn's not dead, Ziggy."
Ziggy's eyes widened, staring past Dillon as the bald specter moved closer, pushing aside his ruffled coat to draw a white blaster and point it at the two escapees.
"He'll be fine."
The wall at the end of the hallway slid open, just like the rest of the featureless doorways in the complex. An explosion rattled the building and the both of them ducked on instinct, but the man moved ever closer. Time seemed to slow down; the bald man fired his ray gun, the streak of brilliant energy crawling sluggishly through the air before the man's arm dropped by unnatural force, his body slamming against the wall, his head connecting with a solid crack. Dillon and Ziggy both found themselves sprawled on the floor as a solid chunk of the ceiling of the complex shattered on the floor where they'd stood, Dillon defiant and Ziggy cowering a second before. This all happened in less than a microsecond, and left the faintest impression of blue energy in its wake.
"I am fine!" The blue ranger said, spreading his arms with a triumphant laugh. "Come on, lads, let's get goin'."
The elevator opened and Flynn led the way out, his Nitro Blaster drawn and ready, but the atrium of the building was empty except for the Killjoys and the two Rangers who had stayed behind to cover Flynn's descent.
Ziggy limped along at Dillon's side, his eyes half-closed. Dillon glanced down and back, noticing the smears of red he was leaving behind on the tiled floor. Ziggy was still bleeding, and Dillon's heart constricted. He reached with his free arm for Flynn's arm even as the other two Ranger's converged on them.
"Ziggy's hurt." He insisted, and he knew he was right when Ziggy didn't speak up to defend or deny, his head lolling against Dillon's shoulder. Dillon turned to Summer, as the closer of the two other rangers. "You have our morphers?"
She shook her head, and Dillon could imagine the face she was making beneath her helmet. "Doctor K wasn't sure if you guys would be ready for it."
Dillon scoffed. "Oh, great. How are we supposed to get him out of here, then?"
Summer turned to touch Ziggy's arm, and he finally shifted, reaching to grab her wrist, turning his head to give her a weak smile. Summer turned to regard Dillon again, and he could feel her frown through the visor. "What, you were expecting him to teleport you out?"
Dillon sighed. "No."
"We're going to run." Party Poison said, joining them and signaling to the Killjoys to herd them all towards the door. "Fast, before they can reorganize and attack again."
"Ziggy's not going to be running anywhere," Flynn pointed out, gesturing towards his bleeding ankle.
Dillon held up one hand. "I've got it. Just show me where to go." With that, he bent, sweeping one arm behind Ziggy's knees, the other around his upper back, lifting him easily into his arms. Ziggy kicked his feet in weak protest, but quieted down when Dillon cradled him to his chest and subdued him with a fleeting kiss to his hair. If any of the others noticed this moment of physical affection, they decided not to say anything.
"Move!" Scott shouted. The Killjoys led the way this time, the suited Rangers closing ranks around their teammates. Their escape from the city went mostly unchallenged, the citizens milling about aimlessly, confused but too mentally addled to be afraid of the attackers. The Draculoids that remained standing held back, herding the citizens away from the carnage, some of them already circulating through the crowds, passing out pills and speaking calming words.
Dillon was disgusted. He couldn't believe they were letting this go on. But he knew that right at this moment, Ziggy was his primary concern.
The tunnel was empty, echoing with the sounds of their footsteps. They passed the charred remains of the security check point, and slowed down, sure now that they weren't yet being pursued. The Rangers paused to demorph, though all three of them were still energized, wired from the residual energy the suits instilled in them.
Party Poison slid back amongst the Rangers, moving to nudge Flynn. "Was anyone down there?"
"Bald bloke." Flynn admitted, patting Party Poison on the back. "I don't know if he's dead, though. I'm sorry."
Party Poison shook his head and actually smiled. "No, it's okay. If it was him, then I'm just glad you all made it out."
The sun was still bright in the unclouded sky when the exited the tunnel. Dillon stopped short twenty yards out of the tunnel, squinting down the road and frowning. "What happened to no one driving my car, Summer?"
Summer laughed musically, and Dillon turned to stare at her blankly, finding her standing indecently close to Jet Star.
"Did I miss something?"
Summer shook her head, still smiling. "Figured you'd want your own ride back."
Party Poison led the way back to their cars, and they split up. Summer joined Flynn in Scott's car this time, the Killjoys cramming into their car as ever, Fun Ghoul and Jet Star in the back, Kobra Kid riding shotgun.
Dillon shifted his grip on Ziggy to open the passenger door of the Fury, settling Ziggy in the passenger seat and leaning around him to buckle him in. Ziggy's head lolled back against the seat and he looked up at Dillon with a sleepy smile. "We made it?"
"We're not out of the fire yet, buddy."
Ziggy nodded once, his head falling forward after. "We made it." He mumbled. Dillon smiled and closed the door, vaulting over the car to climb behind the wheel as quickly as he could. He adjusted the seat back from where Summer had it, checking his mirrors on an unnecessary reflex.
The Killjoys peeled out in the lead, Scott following and the Fury again taking up the rear.
The sun was just setting when the three cars pulled up haphazardly outside the diner. Show Pony stood just outside the door, Tenaya at his side. Dillon smiled at them as he climbed out of the Fury. She seemed so content, so peaceful standing beside him, and Show Pony seemed like he had quickly grown as protective of her as he was of Doctor Death Defying. Amazing, and very hopeful.
Dillon circled the car to retrieve Ziggy, who had fallen asleep at some point during the drive. The others climbed out of their respective rides, and Jet Star moved quickly to Dillon's side.
"Let's get him inside so I can take a look." Jet Star said gently, his voice soft so as not to wake the green ranger. Dillon nodded and they proceeded inside. Dillon placed Ziggy gently on the table where he had set Flynn not so long ago. Jet Star and Summer circled to either side of the table and Dillon peeled away. Hard as it was not to hover over Ziggy, he knew he had something more important to do than pester Jet Star while he worked.
He went to Tenaya and gathered her into a hug. She laughed weakly, clutching the front of Dillon's jacket. "I was scared." She admitted softly.
"Like anything could hurt me."
She nodded and Dillon looked over her shoulder at Show Pony, sitting beside Doctor Death Defying, leaning against him. "Tenaya?"
"Yeah, big brother?"
He gulped, having thought about what he wanted to say on the drive back to the diner, and now finding himself at a loss for words. "Are you... you're... You'd be safe here, wouldn't you? With them?"
She pulled back, lifting her face towards him, blinking her clouded eyes. A tingle ran up Dillon's spine, the familiar feeling of a memory trying to surface but crashing against an invisible barrier in his mind. "You're leaving?" She asked, but her voice wasn't accusing, wasn't angry or upset. It was calm, resigned.
Dillon shrugged, knowing she'd feel it where her hands rested on his shoulders. "I... I have some things I need to work out."
"But I'll come back, if you need me to."
Show Pony appeared at Tenaya's side, and he was smiling. Dillon looked at him, then back at his sister. "You've been talking?"
"About a lot of things." Tenaya admitted. "I'd like to stay here, with them. Help with the broadcasts." She smiled. "I can't go back to Corinth, and here there's the radio... You don't need to see."
Dillon nodded. "That makes sense."
Show Pony touched Dillon's arm. "We should be safe here for a while. Battery City will need time to recover from the assault. We'll take good care of her."
Dillon pulled Tenaya into a tight hug, then let her go, feeling for once calm, unafraid that he was abandoning his sister. He was leaving, but she was staying of her own accord. He turned to face Show Pony and held out a hand. The slight young man grasped it tightly.
"I know you will."
Dillon returned to the table. Ziggy looked very peaceful now, no longer haunted and diminished as he'd seemed underground in Battery City. Someone had covered him with a blanket, and he looked like he was sleeping, instead of the more negative connotations of unconsciousness.
Jet Star and Summer were sitting on another table near by, and Dillon paused, standing over Ziggy with a hand in his hair. They were holding hands.
"I definitely missed something." Dillon said, trying to keep his voice quiet so as not to wake Ziggy.
"I think we missed something too." Summer admitted softly. Dillon noticed how her hand flexed around Jet Star's fingers. "That's why I'm staying. So we can figure this out." Jet Star looked at her, an oddly giddy smile on his face.
"I thought you missed Corinth?"
Summer shrugged. "I missed home. But I missed having something to fight for more."
Dillon nodded, turning his head when Scott came up beside him. He felt Flynn on his other side.
"What's this about stayin'?" Flynn asked.
Summer looked up, then across the diner. She raised her voice slightly, and Ziggy stirred but didn't wake up.
She looked up from her computer and then stood up, crossing the diner to stand with her team. She spared Jet Star a fleeting glance. "Rangers." She said, glancing down at Ziggy. Her mouth twitched slightly, Dillon wasn't sure if anyone else noticed. "I see our team is splintering. Ranger Red, you are returning to Corinth?"
Scott nodded. "I have commitments there, a Squadron to lead."
"Of course. Ranger Blue?"
Flynn smiled. "Aye, I'm headin' back with Scott. Gemma's probably worried sick."
Doctor K nodded, and turned towards Summer once more. "Ranger Yellow, you are staying here?"
Summer squeezed Jet Star's hand again. "Yes."
Doctor K's serious gaze turned then to Dillon, and he realized that he was the only one that none of them could anticipate his answer. "Ranger Black?"
Dillon moved to take Ziggy's hand, uncommonly gentle. Ziggy shifted slightly, his hand tightening on Dillon's fingers as he slept. "I'm not sure if we're going back to Corinth."
"But you intend to be together?" Doctor K pressed. Dillon realized that he was taking Ziggy away from his commitments, and he wondered briefly if he should wait to make his decision, wait for Ziggy to wake up.
Ziggy's eyes fluttered open, as if Dillon's thoughts had been shouting his name. He looked up at the group around him and smiled weakly, shaking his head. "I'm not dying." His voice was raspy, and Jet Star stood up suddenly.
"I'll get him some water."
Dillon wondered how much of this was about Ziggy's throat, and how much was Jet Star realizing that he was slightly out of place in the Ranger's conversation. Ziggy's eyes moved to follow Jet Star's leaving, then shifted to look at Doctor K.
"K?" He asked.
She stood a little straighter, brushing her hands down her lab coat. "I am also staying here, in California. There is so much information to be gathered, research to be conducted." She smiled. "Bad guys to be defeated." She took a slow breath, then reached for Ziggy's free hand. He took it gently and they both gripped tightly. Dillon found himself feeling the slightest pang of jealousy, but he shook it off. Now was not in any way the time.
Doctor K released Ziggy's hand and took a step back. "So I am staying. I've already spoken to Doctor Death Defying, and they will have me. And so our company is split. Ranger Green?"
Ziggy smiled. "What's that?"
She shook her head. "Ziggy."
"You and Ranger Black... Dillon. You and Dillon will be leaving?"
Ziggy looked up at Dillon, his fingers tightened on Dillon's again. "Yeah, I think we will. But we'll stay in touch?"
Doctor K nodded and grinned. "That we will!" She turned to retrieve the silver case. Ziggy shifted, curling his legs up to give her room to set the case on the table he was lying on. She opened the case, lifting out the Series Black morpher and offering it to Dillon.
He took the device and held it loosely in his hand for a moment before strapping it around his left wrist. It felt right there, comfortable.
Doctor K withdrew the Series Green morpher, and took it upon herself to place it around Ziggy's wrist.
"I'm making great strides in the Project Ranger technology and programming." She said, stepping back and closing the case again, lifting it and handing it to Scott. He took it with a nod. "We should be able to communicate, morpher to morpher, from anywhere in the country. From here to Corinth."
"That's awesome, Doc." Dillon praised her. She shook her head and she actually laughed.
"We will all stay in touch." She proclaimed. "As your mentor, I insist upon it. Use your power whenever necessary. You are my team. You have always made me proud."
Summer and Jet Star were working on Jet Star's bike, when they weren't shoving each other like young children still struggling with the concept of showing affection. There was a smudge of grease on Summer's cheek, and she was laughing. She'd already said her good-byes.
Scott and Flynn had left before Ziggy was even upright, wanting to make good time back to Corinth. Dillon wondered if Scott had someone more than his father waiting for him. He figured he'd make a point to find out and never let Scott live it down, whichever direction it went.
Ziggy limped towards Dillon. He looked odd, wearing second-hand clothes from Fun Ghoul, but it was a lot better than the outfit Show Pony had offered. At least Fun Ghoul's limited wardrobe had included something green. They met beside the passenger seat, and Dillon reached for Ziggy, holding him tight in his arms. Ziggy pulled back to look up at him, one eyebrow quirked.
"Let's get going, then."
"You've said all your good-byes?"
"All that need to be said." Dillon assured him, opening the door for Ziggy.
Ziggy settled into his seat, buckling the seat belt around him. Dillon took his place in the driver's seat, and with a last wave to Summer, the Fury peeled away from the diner, kicking up a cloud of sand and dust in its wake.
Ziggy turned around in his seat to watch the diner receding behind them. It was very much in the middle of nowhere, and it didn't take them long to be roaring through a featureless desert, nothing around them but sunlight and sand.
"Deja vu." Ziggy said, turning back around with two lemon flavored lollipops in his hand. He took the wrapper off one and offered it to Dillon, who took it without looking, a smile on his face. "Feels like we've been here before."
"We have." Dillon said, shrugging. "But it's a little different now."
"Where are we going?" Ziggy asked, taking the wrapper off his own sucker and examining it for a moment before popping it into his mouth.
"Wherever the road takes us."
"Doesn't really matter, I guess." Ziggy agreed. "Now that we're together again. Guess we'll always be looking at the same stars."
Dillon gave Ziggy a sidelong glance, lifting one eyebrow at him. Ziggy looked at him innocently, then laughed. "We have some catching up to do still."
"It's okay." Dillon said, turning his attention back to the road. "We've got a long drive."