I’m pretty sure about half the words these Justice Rangers used while fiddling with some of our equipment was made up. The Blue Justice Ranger did most of the actual sciencing, along with the help of some voice talking to him through his helmet. It got through despite the Institute of Science’s hardening to outside signals. I tried to listen in, but it didn’t really work right. I tapped into the feed and there was a freaky power surge that stumbled me. I sniffed around a bit where I was in the lab while one of the assistants nearby reached for me. “Empress?”
I waved him away. “It’s ok. What smells like plants in here?”
He looked around. “Nothing. This is the time travel lab.”
I looked around at the room made of brilliant white tiles with glowing lines running in the cracks between each one. “I don’t remember a time travel lab.”
The assistant bowed. “Allow me to explain. You traveled here from the past, and when you leave, it will be the future.”
Another man stomped up and grabbed the assistant’s elbow. “I told you to stop saying that! I’m sorry, Empress, Brad here thinks it’s funny to pretend the doorway is a time machine.”
“Ah,” I said, eyeing the equipment here. “What do you do here then?”
The second guy pointed to a part where one of the tiles had been pulled out of the wall to reveal a drawer full of dirt someone else was checking through. “This is an ag lab. My project is cultivation of domesticated truffle species that don’t require trees. Brad here is helping with blight-resistant strains. It’s not flashy, but it needs doing.” He gave a little nod at that.
“Huh… fancy room for growing stuff,” I said, pointing to the cracks next to me where lights raced towards intersections.
Brad laughed. “That’s because the group who had this room before us were testing whether or not futuristic room design improved production and creativity in scientists. Doctor Creeper was pissed when he found out. It is pretty cool though. Makes me feel happy to come in and do the drudge work.”
“Yeah, makes my job feel cooler,” his truffle-loving companion said. “Anyway, is there something we can help you with, Empress?”
I shook my head. “No, was just wandering while I worked on something in my head. Got a bit of a headache there. I hope the results are good here. I’ve got plans to create our own centralized food complex to strengthen our food security, and I’m interested in anything we can do. Truffles could be a good revenue stream.” Especially if something were to happen to the world’s truffle supply, leaving me the biggest supplier of mass-produced mycelia around. I’ll save that idea for if the things actually work out, or maybe I’ll farm it out. Some of the schemes I come up with seem a little beneath me now, like I’m supposed to focus on world domination and stuff.
I was met at the door to the Rangers’ work space by an excitable Green Ranger. He seemed to be the awkward and jumpy one of the group. I’ve found certain archetypes appear again and again in Justice Ranger teams, and that sometimes involves a quirky one. “Good, there you are. Ranger Blue says we need a laser, a big one, the biggest you have. Do you have a giant laser?”
I put my head back and let out a dark, bellowing, “Mwahahahahahahaha!” Then I looked back at him. “Yeah, sure, let me show you. What kind of supervillain with my own lab would I be without a giant laser.”
Creeper butted in before we took more than a couple steps. I stopped and answered, catching his video call on my inner eye HUD. “Gecko! We have a hit!”
“Did we sink their patrol boat?” I asked.
He paused a moment, then scrolled on something with a mouse and typed a few characters. “We established a sort of crime-puter to monitor superhero and supervillain activity around the world via social media, law enforcement, and the news. We just received an alert that identified Medusa’s involvement in a crime. She had the Pink Ranger with her.”
“Yes!” I said.
“What?” asked the Green Ranger. “Why’d we stop?”
“My guys spotted Venus. No need to do all the bio force-whatever y’all are playing around with in there,” I informed him, pointing back at the lab he had come from.
He held a fist up in front of him triumphantly, then deflated a moment. “This means I won’t get to see the giant laser, doesn’t it?”
“Maybe another time,” I told him. “First, we hunt down our missing comrades. I’ll save the giant laser for when we have your pink friend in our grasp.” I started to walk away, grinning.
“Yeah!” the Green Ranger excitedly agreed. “…wait, what?”
The Justice Rangers weren’t happy that I had the Psycho Flyer loaded and ready to go without waiting for them. I read it in their body language, as they still haven’t taken their helmets off around me. It was just something about the anger and defiance in Red’s body language. They could probably tell I was smiling despite my helmet, too. “Finally. I thought we were going to have to leave without you.”
“Good thing we caught this flight. We wouldn’t want to be here without you,” Red said. Ya know, I think he meant that last part as a threat.
“Buckle up then, buttercup. We’re on our way to New Mexico.”
“What’s in New Mexico?” he asked me. The Rangers looked around and found some seats alongside my Dragon soldiers.
“New Mexicans,” I said by way of answer. “And a smoking crater that used to be some kind of detention facility nobody knew about. Lotta people swear they didn’t know it was there and that the state and the federal government both had nothing to do with it. It got blown up by a woman in power armor and another in pink spandex.”
“It’s. Not. Spandex,” growled the Blue Ranger. Ooh, testy.
It was a long flight, made worse by the hostile groups. I mean, it got old only playing against the Green Ranger. There’s only so long you can fight the same person in Smash Brothers before it gets boring, no matter how many times you beat them by growing a tree underneath them. What eventually drew the interest of the other Rangers enough to comment was the revelation we were playing Metal Gear Solid co-op.
“No you’re not,” Red said. “You’re taking turns.”
“He’s pretty good at some of the stealth. Lots of patience,” I said of the Green Ranger, while I was busy with the controller.
“Yeah,” Green said, turning and pointing to the screen. “And she’s sniping without using the diazepam.”
“You can’t play videogames with the enemy!” Blue said.
“He sure as shit can’t play them with the rest of y’a,” I said. I handed the controller back to Green. “There, everyone’s dead. I’m hitting up the bathroom before we land, get rid of at least one piece of shit on this aircraft.”
It’s safe to say tensions were high. The Flyer went in cloaked to avoid adding any more. There were federal agents watching over the scene. It took long enough to get there that we all had the official story. It was a militia camp of unusual size. They figure they’d been playing with something they shouldn’t have, like too much Tannerite. Unless they made an entire building out of the binary explosive, that doesn’t explain the size of the crater.
Video didn’t do it justice. Being there ourselves, we got a better sense not only of the size of the blast, but also of something else not being reported on. There was a trail leading away from the place. The explosion obscured its start at the site, but we caught a glimpse of brush and dirt that had been disturbed by a lot of folks walking in a line and decided to follow it.
It got a little harder to follow when we figured they spread out. They left a wider impression on the environment, but less of it showed because of how few had tread over the same spots. The journey they took avoided the closest town, to the east, instead heading further northwest on a journey punctuated by the occasional abandoned plastic jug.
Finally, we came to Six Shooter, New Mexico. We hovered over it, as many of myself and the Rangers packed into the cockpit as possible, looking for any groups of unusual size or if Medusa was just strolling along. Finally, Yellow pointed to a bar and grill. “I saw her. She’s there!”
I didn’t, but I quickly turned and tried to push past the Ranger team. They weren’t standing still either. They all ran, slid, and flipped past my soldiers to reach the drop hole before me. I cussed under my breath and activated my armor’s cloaking before jumping down. I landed in the middle of an intersection just in time to take a minivan to the face. It took me a minute to peel myself out of the engine block and sneak off, which was more time the Rangers had to move in on my Medusa without me there.
I brushed myself off and snuck off, leaving the befuddled driver and passengers to figure out what unseen thing they hit. I didn’t have the suit disguise me as a two-armed version of myself in regular clothes until I reached the sidewalk. That side had this porch area of the bar and grill that people were eating on. I didn’t see them around anywhere, but it was a busy place, full of New Mexicans and Tex-Mex. A gaggle of waiters appeared in front of me as if summoned by a malevolent force to keep me from my goal. Their rendition of Happy Birthday did nothing to dissuade me of this notion.
Before I could sidestep them, my voice picked out my name from off to the side. “Gecko?”
I turned and saw Medusa, out of costume and armor. She was smiling, glasses hanging over her face. “V-Medusa,” I said, rushing over to hug her. “What happened? Did they hurt you? Did you hurt them? Was there blood?”
She giggled. “Calm down. I’m fine. The militia was a bunch of pushovers.” She tried to run her fingers through my hair, then realized why I felt so weird. The armor. “Really, I’m ok. I came to deal with a problem a friend told me about and I brought Ranger Pink along. I figured I would measure her up and see if she was your killer. Even better, I thought I would pick her brain about your past with her.”
“What?” I asked.
The birthday singers parted and Medusa pointed. At the table they’d been singing at sat a group of old ladies, one of them wearing a big novelty sombrero. “Uh, Medusa, I don’t know what she told you, but…”
“No, there,” Medusa said. I followed her finger more closely and saw a booth against the wall past the birthday table. There stood four people who looked mostly normal except for shirts of bright red, blue, green, and yellow. And at the table sat… fuck… my ex. The one who turned on me when I tried to destroy the world. In a pink shirt. Because she was the Pink Justice Ranger.