Chapter One: Red
The room is beautiful.
Decorations arch from the ceiling down toward the floor, in what seems to be a hundred different colors—streamers inviting them to grab them, bits of metal and glass that send shimmering rainbows into the corners of the room, pieces of candy for them to grab at. It's a wonderful, perfect vision, everything a six-year-old child could want, and he stares in from the doorway.
(Something isn't right. There is something wrong about the way the room looks—too square, the corners too sharply angled. There is something about the decorations—they are not right, would not be situated so that they rely on gravity so much. Something is wrong, though an aching part of him wants desperately for it to be right.)
"Come on!" A woman is behind him, shepherding him forward, deeper into the room. "In you go!"
He steps forward, because if he doesn't he suspects he will be bodily lifted, but he doesn't charge at any of the treats. Instead he turns and fixes the woman with his eyes, waiting for her to explain.
She smiles, and she looks familiar to him—looks like him, he thinks, though not like the face that currently peers at him from any reflective surface. Not a child-him, but an adult-him, and his head hurts as he tries to remember where the image of adult-him comes from.
"There there." The woman's hand runs down his face, her touch gentle, soothing, and the pain goes away along with the question that generated it. "You just focus on the here and now. Isn't this an amazing birthday party, son?"
(Wrong, that is not the word she would use—not the word any of them would use. He would be child, he would be sibling, he would be crew, one day, but not son. Not gendered, not segregated, not until his world burns and it hurts, so much, his head hurts so much—)
"Focus." Her hands have clamped down on either side of his head, and her voice is a command, drawing his attention forward. "We're going to have a lovely evening today. We're going to let you play here, before your age-mates come—"
(Siblings, she should have called them siblings, but he doesn't let her see the pain, instead continuing to stare straight ahead. Nor does he let on that she should never consider letting him take what should be divided evenly among the siblings, all the children of a similar age on the ship being treated as one unit, taught to share as all space-farers must share. These wrong bits are his, and he will hold them close, until he knows what the game is.)
"Don't worry, your siblings will have all that they need, as well." She smiles, but it is a cold, artificial smile, just as her eyes are cold, holding no reflection of emotion. "All you have to do is listen to me, and then you can go have fun."
As if he needed permission to have fun, as if she somehow holds the key to his having fun, and he can feel his breathing grow rapid and shallow as pain again spikes through his head.
"You can have anything you want." Her fingers massage his cheeks, her tone wheedling, caressing. "You can have your world and your people. All you need to do is give me one thing. Just one little thing. You were playing with some of your friends, and you found something. Give it to your mama—"
(Not the right word, a medical word, not the one that is used from a parent to a child, not the one that is used from crew to the crew's children, and his head is going to split in two if he keeps collecting wrong bits but he refuses to let them go.)
"Help me. Help your... crew." This time there is emotion in her voice as she says the word, but it is not a comforting emotion. It is hunger, desire, need, and it is all focused on him. Pulling thoughts from his head, shaping the world around him, and the edges of the room are no longer quite so sharp. The decorations hanging down are no longer quite so incongruous, look almost like what he remembers from when he was five, from the last party he celebrated with his people before—
"Just a little thing." Her eyes burn into his, her hands suddenly a vice on his face. "Just tell us where the toy you found with your friends is."
"I—" He tries to shake his head, but he is small and she is large, and he can't move at all in her grip. "I don't know what you mean."
"You do. You were having a lot of fun with it." Her words are once again a gentle caress, but her hands don't loosen their hold. "I'm going to tell you what you were calling it, and all you have to tell me is where you found it and where you left it. That's it. Just tell me those things, and you can go have your party. Your siblings will join you. I'll stay with you. Everything will be exactly as you want it."
(It won't be. He is missing something—no, more than something. He is missing himself, pieces of the puzzle that make up who he is, and—)
"Tell me where it is and I'll help you make-believe anything you want." Her forehead is leaning against his, the contact driving away the pain that was threatening to sweep him under. It puts her eyes too close, and he think he can see straight through them to empty blackness. "Tell me where the Greatest Treasure in the Universe is."
(No. He is not going to ever tell anyone—must not ever tell anyone—)
"Tell me." The command is the rasping of sandpaper over all his thoughts, disruptive, impossible to ignore. "Tell me, and then you can go free, Marvelous, you can—"
He pulls himself from the waking dream—nightmare—with a howl of rage and hurt. How dare they—how dare they use one of the few memories he has left of his people, of the culture that should have been his. How dare they try to erase all that he has done and become, to make him a child, easily led, easily manipulated.
How dare they be so stupid, not having picked up on the fact that the name Marvelous is self-chosen—is his self, his core, his identity, tied intricately into all that he has done and all that he has become.
He will make them pay for their stupidity.
He kicks one guard into the wall. They are expecting a human—have restrained him as though he were a human, clearly not understanding that his people are faster, stronger, more agile than any human. The restraint around his right wrist breaks easily, and he yanks the IV from his left arm as he tenses his muscles to rip that arm free, as well.
"Stop him—idiots—hold him—"
Three different people are barking orders into the room, and the device around his head is sending electrical shocks of pain up and down his body. He will not be restrained, though. He will not be held captive here while his crew is—
He still hasn't freed his left arm from its restraint, though his feet are on the ground and only a small portion of the memory-reading device is still hanging around his right ear when the electric prod catches him high on his back.
He arches, blood pulsing more heavily from where he's ripped cords off of and out of his body as all his muscles contract uncontrollably. He doesn't scream, this time. He tries to move, to spin to face his attacker, even as his left wrist protests, tiny bones grinding in ways they are not meant to as he continues to pull against the unyielding straps.
Then he catches sight of who is holding the electric prod, and he hesitates.
"Come on, Marv-chan." Basco grins at him, hat tilted jauntily. "You didn't think you could escape from us that easily, did you?"
The man with the prod moves forward then, and as soon as he does Marvelous knows it has been another waking hallucination. The man's moves are not Basco's easy grace. He is scared, jittery, staying back from Marvelous where Basco would have lunged forward.
Even as the optical illusion shreds away, though, the prod finds its mark, twisting his body out of his control again.
"Hit him again." Just one disembodied voice this time, one of the unseen people who has created this prison for him. "Keep hitting him until he can't get up. A little blood loss and some contusions will hopefully make him more amenable to our proceedings."
He will never be amenable to them. He doesn't even know who they are, but he hates them with the same deep passion he had for the Zangyack—a passion he has, perhaps, learned from Joe.
Those who would toy with the minds of others for their own gain deserve nothing but disdain and as swift a death as he can arrange.
Which isn't going to be so swift right now.
He stops fighting after the fifth shock. There's no point in it anymore—he isn't going to get away, and the more injured he ends up the less capable he'll be of making escape attempts in the future.
They don't stop hitting him with the shock sticks until his vision goes grey, his muscles limp except when they respond to the current being forced through them.
There will be another chance, though.
So long as he's alive—so long as he knows his crew is out there, somewhere, separated from him—he will make certain that there's another chance.
"Throw him in with the other one."
Marvelous recognizes the voice as one of the ones that gave commands during his... what? Interrogation? Brain-washing? Torture session? All three are accurate enough, he supposes. This voice is the one that spoke last, the one that wrested control when chaos threatened to take over. He decides he will think of this man as Headman, until he finds a better moniker for him—Headless Man is currently appealing, but will have to wait.
"Perhaps seeing what happens to those who are violent will discourage him from attempting anything of his own." The voice sounds self-satisfied, and Marvelous would open his eyes, try to get a look at the owner, but there's a slight static under the words and a consistency to the volume that tells him the man is using a comm system again.
Staying away from him—afraid of him, perhaps? Marvelous hopes so. If he isn't right now, Marvelous will make sure he is in the future.
The sound of the cell door opening makes him briefly consider trying to get to his feet, but a quick bodily inventory tells him that all he's likely to get from the attempt is more pain, so he stays still.
There is the sound of scrabbling, the zap of one of those damn electric prods again, a whimper that sounds too high-pitched to come from an adult, and the cell door bangs closed again.
He should really force himself up at this point. He should make sure that whoever's been thrown in here with him is friendly—or at least conducive to being an ally. Plus, if they're as young or small as that whimper implied, he should make sure they're not panicking or injured or—
"Mister? Hey, mister, are you still alive?"
Marvelous manages to crack one eye open as a small finger pokes tentatively at his chest.
A boy—human, from the looks of him, though that doesn't mean he can't be like Joe or Luka or Ahim or Marvelous himself and look human but actually not be—peers back down at him, expression earnest. He can't be more than ten or eleven, and there is blood staining his chin and his shirt, clear evidence that he struggled before or after being captured. Reaching up with a bloody hand of his own—a hand that shakes more than he likes, until he frowns at it for a few seconds—Marvelous smears at the blood, trying to ensure there's nothing more serious beneath it. "Hi, kid."
"Hi." The boy stays still, looking down at Marvelous with wide, serious eyes. "My name's Right. Don't worry. My friends are going to come for me, and I'll make sure that we get you out of here, too."
Marvelous can't help but laugh in surprised pleasure at the simple, easy way the boy makes the proclamations. "I'd tell you we have to both decide to live and count on courage, but it seems you've already got courage enough. Well said, boy."
The boy gives a tentative smile. "I... tend to be pretty brave. Or stupid, depending on who you ask. But brave sounds better. Even the Kyoryugers said we were brave."
"Kyoryugers..." Marvelous finds that his eyes have closed without his permission, and he forces them open again. "Gai talked about something... right. The dinosaur dancers. One of our successors."
Right blinks, clearly surprised. "How do you—oh. Oh! You're him! You're Captain Marvelous, leader of the Gokaigers!"
Marvelous can feel his lips pull back in a smile that is half-feral, the recognition and the clear respect with which Right speaks soothing some of the invisible injuries he has been trying to salve with memories of his own. (Memories that will become increasingly untrustworthy, he fears, as they are plundered for Headman to use, but they are all he has—all he is—and he will cherish them for as long as he is certain they are his.) "I am."
"What have they..." The boy's face twists, and Marvelous realizes too late that recognition—though good for him—will only make their captivity harder for the boy to handle.
Forcing trembling muscles to support him, he levers himself into a sitting position. It means he can look down into the boy's eyes, and he does, smiling a little less ferally. Reaching out with his right hand, he ruffles Right's hair. "The rest of the Gokaigers are out there, and they'll be coming for me. So don't worry. All we have to do is survive, and we'll be back with our friends before we know it."
He is certain that his crew is out there. He remembers nothing of being captured—just a blur of darkness in his memory—but if his crew were dead, he is certain Headman would be using that against him. And if they're not dead and they're not here, they will be coming for him.
Not that he'll wait for them—he will look for his own escape, do everything he can to get back to them—but knowing that heroes are looking for them should help buoy the boy's spirits.
Blood drips down Marvelous' arm, drips from his wrist onto Right's upturned face, and in a shimmer of darkness the boy is replaced by a young man.
The young man smiles across at Marvelous, grabs his shoulders and keeps him from falling as Marvelous pulls back in surprise and suspicion.
The man's voice is surprisingly gentle as he helps Marvelous into a sitting position against the wall. "We'll survive. We'll get out of this and go home. The Gokaigers and ToQgers will both be whole again."
He'll need to ask more questions. He'll need to figure out what's happening, why the boy became a young man and if the ToQgers are the half-imaginary train people that Gai has been babbling about for the past few months.
He'll have to be careful, to make sure that he isn't being caught in another trap, tricked into revealing things that he shouldn't ever reveal.
But right now there is no new pain in his head, no sense that something in the world is out of place, so he allows the young man to help him into a better sitting position against the wall. "We'll get back to our friends, and everything will be just fine."
Right looks down at his hand—his adult-size hand, something he hadn't expected to see again for years and years.
Then he looks over at the pirate captain currently slumped against the wall. Marvelous' chest rises and falls steadily, his breathing the even pattern of sleep. Bruises cover most of his exposed skin... or at least most of his exposed skin that isn't covered in blood. The amazing red coat that Right has seen him wearing in pictures of other occasions is gone, his white shirt and black vest stained and torn and tattered almost beyond recognition.
But Marvelous hasn't given up. He is injured and hurting, but he hasn't given up, reiterated time and again that Right and he will be free, that the rest of the Gokaigers will come for them.
Right had merely nodded, reiterated that his own friends will come for them, as well. Hoping to give the pirate more strength, to help in any way that he can—hoping to stretch his imagination with the repetition of the words, to see, clearly and precisely in his mind's eye, his friends coming to get them.
He doesn't know quite what to picture, though. He doesn't know if he should be picturing them in their adult bodies, to match him now, or if he should still be imagining them in their children's bodies. He doesn't know if the Rainbow Line will have noticed his disappearance—his abduction, at the hands of creatures that look like nothing he has ever seen before, like some nightmare combination of wasp and goat and man.
He doesn't know who will be coming for him, but someone will be, he is certain of that.
But he won't be just a pawn. He won't simply sit here waiting for rescue—won't wait to see if they'll do to him what they have done to Marvelous.
It is the third time he's paced the cell, a slow, careful circuit that would do Mio and Hikari proud. He sweeps his eyes over everything, from the rough stone of the ground to the stained, damp plaster of the ceiling. He finds no exit from the cell other than the locked iron bars; he finds nothing that he can use as a weapon. Even stretching his adult-long arms out through the bars and swiping at the fluorescent light humming viciously in the ceiling does no good, his fingers coming up at least a meter short of ever touching the light.
Settling down by the pirate captain again, Right hugs his knees, the creeping cold of fear once more leeching into his heart.
"Of course it is."
Right jumps to his feet, spinning, feeling his breath catch in his throat and his blood turn to ice-water. He knows that voice. He knows it, will hear it in his dreams until the day he dies, but it can't possibly be—
"Yo, Right." Zett is kneeling on the ground, but he stands as Right stands, mirroring his motions. He wears his human guise, and there is tension showing in the lines around his eyes. His clothing is different than it was the last time Right saw him—still mainly white, but more white than it was before, with purple highlights increased and the black stripped away. "I thought it would be longer before we met again."
"You..." Right finds his right foot moving back, and he forces himself to stop, to stand still. "You can't be here. You're dead."
"You can't kill darkness, Right." Zett circles around Right, never moving closer to him, though his eyes flick to Right's feet, watching for motion. "Drive it back, cripple its power, turn it from something frightful to something calm and useful... those you can do. Did do. But you can't erase the dark and the emotions that grow there... not any more than I could erase the light and all the shining wonders it holds."
"I don't..." Right shakes his head, shoves his hand up into his hair to push it away from his eyes. "I don't understand. How are you not dead? Why are you here? Where's here?"
"So many questions." Zett's right hand rises, his fingers stretching toward Right before he abruptly balls his hand into a fist, as though grabbing something unseen. "Part of the light, perhaps? The asking of questions. The demanding of answers. But I'll answer what I can."
"Why?" Anger surges up, and Right finds that he likes it more than he likes the fear and confusion, though it is no less a part of the dark. "Are you part of this? Are you helping them?"
"Never." Zett's anger smolders, his eyes flashing silver as he sneers out the response. "You're not even on Earth, Right. This darkness isn't mine. But it is darkness, and I can move through any darkness I want. My birth-right, no matter what else I might desire."
"Not on Earth." Right nods to himself, a piece of the picture he needs slotting into place. "All right. I guess that makes sense. The Gokaigers spend most of their time in space, after all. I still don't understand why you're here, though."
"Because you're here." Zett says the words as though they're obvious, as though Right is being slow in not picking up on what he means. "We're still bound together, you and I. You found yourself drenched in darkness, surrounded by fear and anger and hatred and a clinging, festering desire, and your body did what it has been taught to do when drenched in darkness."
Right looks down at his hands, remembering the blood dripping down onto his face from Marvelous' battered body, the swirl of darkness that had licked up as he became this almost-grown version of himself again. "I... grew up again. Because of this place? Because of the people here? Because... this place is like being on the Shadow Line or in a town swallowed by darkness, in some way?"
"Ah." Zett smiles, and there is something new in his smile, now, something Right hasn't seen before. A kind of pride, as though he approves of Right's logic. "Very good, Right. But in order to do that, in order to inoculate you against the darkness, it drew on a different darkness. My darkness. And so here I am, and there you are."
Right shakes his head. "It still doesn't explain what you're doing. What side you're on."
"My own." Zett has turned from Right, is examining the iron bars that form one wall of their prison. His hand ghosts up and down, following but not touching the bars. "I think I will always be on my own side, from now on. I will not be anyone's tool or figurehead emperor. I will be the darkness that loves the shining light... and I do not approve of this place."
Zett's hand darts forward, forming a fist... and passes right through the bars, as though they weren't there, as though Zett weren't there.
As though one weren't real.
"Pity." Zett growls out the word, and again his eyes flash silver. "But not unexpected. This place is built of a different kind of darkness, and I'm still recovering from our last... encounter."
"Wait..." Right approaches Zett carefully, still remembering far too well their last few battles, the pain of Zett's fists and blade connecting with his body. "Are you saying you're here to help me?"
"You're bound to me, as I said. My shining light, to soften the darkness." Zett pulls his fist back into the cell, his eyes dropping to the floor. "And Grita wants me to do this. To see if there's some way we can help you."
"Grita?" A smile breaks across Right's face—a smile that causes the split lip he acquired during his abduction to sting, but he doesn't care. "Grita's alive?"
"Grita is the reason I'm still alive... still me, rather than a blank king of darkness ready to be shaped by those around him again." Zett's eyes rise, fixing Right with a fierce glare. "I still can't stand how the world is. How you have what I want—what I can never have. But I'm... growing to accept those things I cannot change. And I'll never let some alien claim what is rightfully mine."
Zett is already striding back into the depths of the cell, to a corner where shadows roll and roil. The sound of a train whistle blares in the distance, twisted and distorted. Right tries to follow Zett into the shadows, but it feels as though he presses against a glass wall, the darkness pushing him back. Zett has no problem striding forward, striding into the seething emptiness, his left hand lifted in a salute. "Keep yourself alive, Right. I'll be very upset if you die at someone else's hands."
And with that the Emperor of Darkness is gone, the roiling shadows just that, shadows, and Right is once more alone with the sleeping pirate.
When he settles down next to Marvelous again, the images come more easily to him.
His friends will come, in adult bodies like his; they will bring their trains, and their imaginations, and their determination; and they will once more dissipate the darkness with the light of a thousand rainbows.
He can see it, and that means it's only a matter of time before it happens.