Disclaimer: I do not own Power Rangers, Saban does. I own all characters, events, and places not found in Dino Thunder.
AN: If anyone had watched the series Babylon 5, you might recognize the title of this chapter from the fifth season episode, "The Very Long Night of Londo Mollari." This chapter will be loosely based on that episode, along with elements of the Dino Thunder episode Fighting Spirit, which this chapter will replace.
Chapter 8: The Very Long Night of Conner McKnight
Ever since the Dino Thunder team entered the infirmary to check on the former Evil Rangers, nobody left, holding a silent vigil over the two teens. Krista woke up and looked around. When she saw the Dino Thunder Rangers, she promptly broke down and apologized profusely for her actions. She knew what she was doing, and enjoyed being free. The power she wielded was immense and intoxicating. She relished the feeling of being so strong and powerful, able to do anything she wanted. This also made her feel extremely guilty; she knew she had done things she never would've done in her right mind. Tommy reminded her of that fact, but she continued crying, remembering everything she said and did. She knew Conner would feel much worse when he woke up, as he drove the Saber of Destruction through civilians. Setting the Tyranno Zord loose also killed Reefside citizens, and Conner would remember everything he said and did. When she asked how Conner was, Tommy reluctantly told her that the Red Ranger was between life and death, with no foot firmly on either side. That set off another round of tears, making Kira feel horrible. Krista and Conner knew each other almost their entire lives, and she was certain that if one had passed away, the other would join them shortly.
Tommy remembered what Rita, now known as Mystic Mother, said. It was now a battle of the mind and spirit, and Conner was the only one who could bring himself out of his predicament.
"Dr. O, he's going to make it, right," Kira asked sadly. Krista looked up at Tommy, her puffy eyes silently pleading with him to say yes.
Tommy Oliver had been through a lot over his Ranger career. He had seen and done things no other Ranger had. He'd been kidnapped and turned more times than he'd care to count, led several teams, and was the only Ranger to be chosen by both Light and Shadow. He'd seen 3 moons go into eclipse on another planet, made allies with the Masked Rider, an entity similar to the Power Rangers, and even befriended the King of Triforia. He had to make nigh impossible decisions, such as whether to pilot the long lost Shogun Zords that were under Lord Zedd's command, and debate if he should be selfish and ask Kimberly to stay, or be the good boyfriend, and let her pursue her dreams. His decision still haunts him, even though he knew he did the right thing by letting her train under Coach Gunther Schmidt in Miami, to prepare for the Pan Global Games. The legendary Ranger had lived quite an eventful life.
But now, for the first time, he really didn't know what to do. He'd love to put the Yellow and Green Rangers' minds at ease and say yes, Conner will be OK. But he couldn't say that; he didn't know. No Ranger had ever been in this position before. He decided to go with the truth.
"I don't know, Kira. In all my years as a Ranger, I've never seen or heard of something like this before. All we can do is hope for the best."
The Dino Thunder team went silent, as the veteran Rangers were gathered outside the infirmary. As they were not Dino Thunder, they silently agreed to leave the new would-be leader and his teammates alone. They couldn't hear what was being said, but they could guess from the Rangers' body language. Krista's breakdown tore at the veteran Rangers' hearts.
"Hasn't the kid been through enough crap in his life," Rocky complained, breaking the silence.
Jason looked to his successor. "What do you mean by that?"
Aisha rolled her eyes and elbowed her husband.
"Not until Tommy comes out," the second Yellow Ranger said. She rapped her knuckles on the glass, getting Tommy's attention. When he turned to Aisha, she motioned for him to come out. After telling his teammates he'd return, he left the infirmary.
"What is it?"
"I know this isn't what you want to hear, but we have no choice, given the circumstances. Conner's troubles go beyond this."
"Care to elaborate?"
"Hayley had some suspicions about Conner, and asked us to look into them. After doing some digging, we noticed that Conner's neighbors were concerned about him for years. They reported hearing screams coming from the house several times. But the police claimed to never find proof of any wrongdoing."
Aisha picked up where Rocky left off. "We noticed the same uniforms were investigating the house each time the police were called. After pulling their service information, we noticed they each came into some rather hefty payments from Steve McKnight, Conner's foster father."
"Bribes," Tommy asked. Aisha nodded, and Rocky took over.
"I was able to get a warrant for information from Reefside General. Apparently Conner had to go there numerous times with several broken bones, ranging from his arms to his legs. There was even a time when his skull was slightly fractured. Mr. McKnight claimed each time that Conner was being clumsy and tripped over something, or fell down the stairs. Some of the nurses didn't buy it and called the cops. Guess who answered?"
Tommy sighed. "The same cops who usually investigated Conner's family."
"Yep. But that's not the worst part. Some of the injuries Conner sustained appeared to be something else. They weren't those sustained from a beating, but from something darker."
Tommy saw the troubled look in Rocky and Aisha's eyes, and instinctively knew what the Red Ranger meant.
"Fuck!" Tommy screamed as he tossed the nearby table, then stormed up the stairs.
"Tommy? Where are you going," Hayley asked.
"I need a drink," came the terse reply. Hayley sighed and went up the stairs after the Black Ranger.
Kat watched the scene with a worried look. She didn't know how much everyone else knew, but she knew what was bothering Tommy. Cestria noticed the veteran Pink Ranger's unease.
"Kat?" Kat blinked and turned to the Aquitian. "You alright?"
Kat sighed. "Yeah, I guess so." That got everyone's attention. Kat usually didn't hedge her answers. The two Detectives watched the scene unfold with trained eyes. They knew Kat knew something, but didn't ask, figuring it wasn't her secret to tell.
While the adults were busy talking, the Dino teens were in the infirmary, keeping silent vigil over their new teammate, hoping for their sake, especially Krista's, that Conner would pull through. He looked deathly white, and was cold to the touch. Only the steady beeping of the machines told the teens the Red Ranger was still alive.
"We need you, Conner. I need you. Please come back to me," Krista said as she held his hand.
"Please come back to me," Conner heard as he found himself in what was once a beautiful meadow. Everything looked dead and decayed, a dull grey and black as far as the eye could see. The only sounds were the howling of the wind. There were no birds chirping, no insects, people on iPhones, or planes overhead.
"What's going on here? Where am I," the Red Ranger whispered. The dreary landscape served to depress him, as he couldn't find a way out of the nightmare.
"This is what would've happened had you remained under Mesogog's influence," a voice nearby chimed out. Conner whirled in the direction of the voice and found nothing.
"Great, you're imagining things," he murmured.
"No, this is very real," the voice stated once more.
"Who's there? Show yourself!"
"Don't you recognize your own voice? I'm disappointed. I expected better of you." The annoying voice came out in a chiding manner, and Conner found himself growing bewildered, and a little angry. He then saw the shadows coalesce into a shape that quickly became Humanoid. Once the form approached Conner, he could see a perfect copy of himself.
"What are you? Why am I here?"
"Perhaps I am your conscience. Perhaps I am a delusion, caused by a lack of oxygen to the brain. Or perhaps I am the voice of everyone you killed made manifest," came the response in Conner's voice. Conner sighed deeply, the guilt overwhelming. The strength seemed to roll out of him in waves, as his legs gave out, and he fell to the ground.
"No. You don't get to run and hide. Get up and look around. You get up and look around."
Conner did as his doppelganger said. The once vibrant scene served to remind him of his ultimate failure. He once thought he couldn't fall any further, or be any more broken. He wished he could return to that ignorance, not knowing he would become the very thing he hated and feared the most.
"Do you remember this place?" The scene shifted to the town square, where Conner and Krista launched their first attack after Conner had received the Saber of Destruction. He remembered all too well the screams as he slew with impunity, driving the Saber through anyone in reach. The last to fall was the mother of an eight-year old girl he had just slain. The mother's anguished screams devolved into a gurgle as her mouth filled with blood after Conner drove the Saber through her back. Her pain quickly faded into darkness as her eyes closed for the final time. Conner knew he would never be able to forget his crimes.
"Yes," the Red Ranger answered, his voice nothing more than a whisper. "I'll never forget."
The copy nodded. "There may yet be hope for you." He made a hand gesture, indicating Conner was to follow. He brought the two to the quarry at Mesogog's fortress, where Conner was bestowed the Saber. "Do you remember this place?"
"To the death of the Power Rangers!" Conner's proclamation came back to him like a shot in the gut. "This is where it began to spiral out of control," he said. "Where I lost myself." Conner held his head low, the shame washing over him.
Back in the infirmary, Conner's body shook and spasmed as the heart monitor detected an increasing rate. Alarms started going off, and the robotic assistant ran into the infirmary, telling the teens he needs the room.
"Dr. O! Dr. O, where are you," Krista screamed as she came running out of the room with Kira, Ethan, and Eric. The other Rangers had already heard the alarms and ran to the room just outside the infirmary, keeping a respectable distance so as to not be in the Dino teens' way. Tommy and Hayley heard Krista's cries and came barreling down the stairs.
"What's going on," the veteran Ranger asked. Krista gestured towards the infirmary helplessly.
"I don't know! He was fine one minute, and then…"
Krista's protestations became incoherent as her words jumbled together. Kira just hugged the Green Ranger, and Krista stopped talking, collapsing into sobs. Cestria came up to the Black Ranger.
"I've been watching on the monitor, and it looks like he's fighting a battle of the mind. My people recognize the signs; we've been through them ourselves when horribly injured."
Tommy turned to the Aquitian Ranger. "Is there anything you can do to help him? Anything that can pull him out of this?"
Cestria shook her head. "Conner has to fight this battle on his own. I can go in and offer encouragement, but that's it. His demons are his own, and we can't get rid of them for him. I suspect you know what I'm talking about."
The former Mighty Morphin Rangers turn to Tommy, with Jason narrowing his eyes. "Still, Tommy? You still carry the guilt of that?"
Tommy sighed. "Yes."
Jason threw up his hands in disgust and resignation. "How many fucking times do you have to be told it wasn't you?"
Kimberly didn't know what to say. She knew Tommy still likely had some demons of his own, but didn't realize it was bad enough to still haunt him more than a decade later. She looked at Kat, and saw her fighting her own battle, and sighed inwardly. Rita did a real number on Tommy and Kat. The latter may not have been a Ranger when she was turned, but she still inflicted heavy damage, and despite all their reassurances that they held no grudge or lingering resentment, the veteran Rangers had never been able to banish Kat's feelings of self-hatred and doubt. She was very much like Tommy, in that regard.
Zack watched the scene quietly. The former ladies' man was never an idiot. His vibrant, outgoing personality hid a keen eye and sharp wit. He walked over to the current Yellow and Green Rangers, got their attention, and gestured with his head that he wished to speak with them privately. The two followed him outside. Zack took a deep breath as he thought about what he'd say.
"Look guys, I know you're worried about Conner, and that this is something you never thought of facing. Nobody, especially kids, should ever have to face something like this. I'm sorry you're facing the same things we did as Rangers. But, I know you can pull through this. I know your team will be strong, and overcome this." Krista and Kira's attention was undivided at that point. "I will not say it's going to be easy. Tom-Dr. O," Zack caught himself; he still thought of the first Green Ranger as Tommy, and not someone with a PhD, "had issues for a long time after he was freed. But we stuck together, and showed him that we had no hard feelings. He eventually accepted his role, and we'd never been stronger." Zack looked at the new Yellow and Green Rangers in the eye. "You are just as spirited and talented as we were. Kira, you are the newest Yellow, and like Trini, you have the quiet fire that is befitting your color. You know when to fight, and when to step back. Trini would be very proud to call you her successor. Krista, you started out the same way Dr. Oliver did, and with the same color. That cannot be changed, but I know you will come out of it stronger. Listen to him as he helps guide you. You can help each other heal, and you can help Conner heal."
"How? How can I help Conner heal if he's dying in there?"
"Conner is strong. He is a Red, and no Ranger is weak. The Reds are the leaders. They are stubborn to a fault, and refuse to stay down. He will come out of this."
Krista smiled sadly. "Stubborn sounds very much like Conner."
Zack nodded. "All Reds are stubborn. But they are also the most fierce and loyal. They will fight anything they see as a threat to the team. Never forget that. Conner will come out of this, your team will be whole, and you will fight with a passion all your own." He placed his hands on Krista and Kira's shoulders. "As the women of the team, you are the heart and soul of the team. You are what hold everything together. It's not the ferocity, leadership, and tenacity of the Red Rangers. It's not the intelligence and snark of Blue Rangers, or anything else. We may all be part of the team, but it is the women who hold the team together. You have a power that nobody else does. Embrace it. You'll be amazed what the team can accomplish when you do."
Krista and Kira stood in awe of the world's first Black Ranger, who just told them that they were essentially the glue of the team. Kira never even considered that possibility, and Krista couldn't do anything of her own volition, let alone think about what Zack said. The Black Ranger smiled. "Shall we, ladies?" Krista and Kira smiled, and followed him back into Tommy's Command Center. Jason walked up to Zack.
"What did you talk about out there," the first Red Ranger asked.
"I told them what they needed to hear. They were in despair, so I gave them hope."
Jason nodded. "Good. They can use all the hope they can get right now. That kid is going to need it."
The robotic assistant, whom Tommy had asked about giving a name to, came out at that moment, and cleared his throat, getting Tommy's attention. "Conner has stabilized, but he can't take much more. We need to think about contacting someone in case the worst happens."
"I will not contact his father. That "man," and I use the term very loosely, is a monster. I refuse to put that child in the hands of that man again."
"I understand, but the truth is, unless something miraculous happens, he may not survive the night."
Rocky piped up then. "Well then, what do you suggest? His mother is dead, and his father never remarried. What woman in their right mind would want to marry a monster like that? We already have the evidence necessary, and just need the warrant to arrest him.
"We leaned on the crooked cops, and they sang like canaries. Steve McKnight is not a pleasant man; he's threatened even his own partners. They have no love for him. After that, it was easy to get proof."
Aisha's phone rang, and she stepped aside. When she came back, she bore a wicked grin that made Rocky shudder. He never liked being on the receiving end of that look, and was glad he wasn't in trouble this time. "The warrant came through. We can move when we're ready."
"Where will Conner go, then? Does he have any surviving relatives," Tommy asked.
"No known surviving relatives," Rocky answered.
"So what then? Foster parents look for young kids, not teens. I know; I've been there."
Billy and Cestria stepped forward. "Rocky, do you know someone in Child Protective Services?"
"Yeah, and you'd never believe who it is, either: Skull."
"Skull? As in Angel Grove Skull," Kimberly asked.
"Hey, you saw how much he and Bulk have changed. Bulk lost a lot of weight, and is now a Detective, while Skull now works in CPS. Bulk a damn good cop. 'Sha knows; she's worked with him, too." Aisha nodded.
Kimberly blinked. "Wow. That's amazing."
"It is, and he's been a tremendous help. Anyway, why do you ask, Billy," Rocky brought the conversation back on track.
"If you could have him expedite the process, Cestria and I could adopt Conner. We've been thinking about children, but our jobs are too constricting to have a baby. Adopting an older child, who already knows most of the lessons, would make sense."
Tommy nodded slowly. "Good point. But if Conner has been abused like that, then he'll have trust issues."
"What better person to help than a telepath whose people have pioneered telepathic therapy," Cestria countered. Tommy slightly tilted his head to the side, considering her point.
"You think it could work? Are Humans close enough for this to work?"
Cestria nodded. "Our two species aren't that far removed genetically. Billy is able to survive on Aquitar with only a breather unit underwater. Our species may not be related, but still, only a few genes separate us."
"Interesting. If you truly believe your therapy can work, go for it. He can use all the help he can get. " Providing he survives the night, Tommy wanted to add.
"I'll call Skull now, and have him get to work on it first thing in the morning. But he'll need to see your home, and have proof of income." The married pair nodded. "'Sha, could you get a team together while I call Skull? We need to move on Mr. McKnight tonight. By the time Conner gets over this, he needs to be able to go somewhere."
Aisha had already pulled her phone out, and was calling their Captain to get some men together. When Rocky got off the phone with Skull, Aisha was already waiting for him.
"We need to change, and meet the team in 30 minutes. Let's go."
Rocky and Aisha left after saying goodbye to their friends and Dino Rangers and set out to take down Steve McKnight.
"Tommy, there's another problem," Hayley said from the computers. Tommy sighed and walked over to the computers, where Hayley was watching footage from the battle.
"What's the issue Hayley," the Black Ranger asked.
Hayley zoomed in on a section of trees near the rock quarry where the battle took place. A hunched figure was seen with a phone to its ear.
"You guys had demorphed during the battle, and used your names more than once. This person's intentions are unclear."
"Can you focus on what's being said? Even if it's just a one-way conversation to us, it may still shed some light on how much is known, and what their intentions are." Hayley nodded, and pulled up the audio.
"We have a problem, Sir," came the masculine voice in the recording. "The Rangers got to the rogues before we could."
There was a brief pause in the audio, the man listening to the voice on the other end. "Yes, Sir. Sending data now."
There was another pause, and the man finally spoke for the final time. "Understood. ETA to base: 30 minutes." He hung up the phone, and slunk into the shadows.
Hayley turned back to Tommy. "It's clear this man wanted Conner and Krista. Question is why? It's also unlikely that this party will stop just because we got to Conner and Krista before they did. They may even make a play on you, or any of the kids. We're going to have to be very careful now. This guy has government written all over him."
Tommy pinched the bridge of his nose. This was not what they needed right now, especially with Conner sidelined. If a fringe group, or someone who's a part of the government, made a play on any of the Rangers, Tommy didn't know what to do to shake them. It wasn't the first time he wished Zordon were there-he'd know what to do. He prayed Conner would wake up soon.
Meanwhile, Conner was still looking around, hoping to find a way out.
"What are you doing," his doppelganger asked.
"I'm trying to find something, anything, that's actually alive here."
"You won't find it." Conner's head whipped to the copy. "Don't look at me like that," Conner was chided. "This is not only what would've happened had you stayed under Mesogog's control, but will happen if you and the others fail."
"If we fail? I can't do shit if I'm here."
"Exactly. But you have to get out." The copy pointed to a slowly approaching figure in the distance. When the figure got close enough, Conner saw it his himself in his Ranger form, armed with the Tyranno Dagger…and the Saber of Destruction. "Face your fear."
Conner looked to his clone, only to discover that he vanished. The Red Ranger silently got into attack stance, a blade in each hand. Conner raised his hand to morph, and saw the Dino Gem was conspicuously absent from the bracelet. He sighed, and got into attack stance. He would obviously have to fight without his Ranger form. With the Saber and Dagger in his hands, the Red Ranger would be able to use both in short and medium range attacks. But, Conner reasoned, if he were able to get in close to his Ranger form, he wouldn't be able to use the Saber, neutralizing the most powerful tool in the Ranger's arsenal. The Dagger would still be a problem, but he'd deal with that later. If he can manage to get his hands on the Saber, or at least knock it out of the Ranger's hand, then he could more effectively deal with his Ranger form.
While Conner analyzed his options, the Red Ranger made his move, running towards Conner and lashing out with the Saber. Conner rolled out of the way, then delivered a kick towards the Ranger's hand. The Ranger crossed his arm across his chest so that Conner struck the forearm, negating some of the power of the hit, and ensuring the Saber stayed firmly in his hand. Conner didn't linger, striking out at the Ranger's leg, trying to sweep him. He pressed his advantage to deliver a hit to the Ranger's chest. Before Conner could get some momentum, the Ranger twirled the Tyranno Dagger and slashed at Conner's chest, forcing him back. He barely got out of the way, although a large gash appeared on his shirt. The Ranger threw a lightning quick kick to Conner's chest, and followed up with jabs, slashes, and kicks. Conner tried to block as much as he could or evade, but the Ranger was too fast and powerful. Conner soon got knocked to the ground, and the Red Ranger approached. He put his foot on Conner's chest and raised the Saber.
The heart monitor picked up the spike in Conner's rate, and the alarms blared once more, more incessantly this time. The robotic assistant ran into the infirmary with Tommy, Billy, and Cestria. Tommy held Conner's legs while the assistant strapped Conner to the bed.
"We're losing him! This could be it!"
Tommy put a hand on Conner's shoulder, trying to stop the convulsions. "Don't you die on me, you hear me? Don't you die on me! C'mon!"
It was pretty harrowing, but Conner was eventually stabilized after having flat lined twice.
"He's not out of the woods yet. He's looking better, but one more attack like that will be fatal. His heart has simply taken too much damage. It's all or nothing now," the robotic assistant said.
"You put up a valiant battle, but lost. Surrender, and I'll make your end swift." The Red Ranger's voice was cold, dark, and empty. It was just as Conner remembered his voice being while under Mesogog's control.
"You have to know I can't do that," he wheezed. His eyes were defiant, as he realized he could do some good and begin to atone for his actions.
"Then I have no choice." The Saber was about to be put through Conner's chest, when the Red Ranger put it away. "You've passed the test." The Red Ranger's voice suddenly sounded much more like Conner's normal tone. He held a hand out to Conner, who accepted it, pulling himself up.
"Test? What test?"
"You haven't been fighting me. You've been fighting for your life. And you've proven your will to live is greater than any Ranger power. Now the real battle begins. You must go back to your friends now. Good luck, Red Ranger." Conner's Ranger copy vanished, and he felt himself becoming dizzy, and eventually passed out.
"Looking good. Looking good," the robot said as he checked Conner's pulse, heart rate, and eyes. "Whatever was happening, he prevailed. He should be waking up soon. But I must emphasize that he's still in bad shape. This ordeal has placed great strain on his system. His Ranger healing should significantly boost the recovery process, but unless I find evidence that he's ready to go into battle sooner, he's to stay away from fighting for no less than a week, preferably at least 2 weeks to a month."
Tommy sighed for what felt like the millionth time. "Until Conner can become legally adopted by Billy, I want him to stay here, where I can keep an eye on him. We should get at least a week's worth of clothes from his house, as well as his personal effects. Rocky and Aisha should be able to do that."
Conner's eyes flittered, and he slowly opened them. His groan caught Tommy's attention, and he quickly walked back into the infirmary, along with the other Dino Rangers. Conner looked around, not recognizing his surroundings. He soon saw the Dino Rangers and tried to flee. The IV in his arm burned, and Conner was about to remove the needle when Tommy held up his hands in a nonthreatening manner.
"Whoa, slow down! We're not going to hurt you. You're safe now."
Conner looked as if he didn't believe Tommy, but nodded anyway and leaned back on the bed. Conner's eyes never left the Rangers', and Tommy knew the Red Ranger was skittish. Tommy didn't know if it was because of Conner's father, or the guilt he now carried due to his actions. As the former Evil Green Ranger knew firsthand, words will not be enough to reassure Conner. Helping Conner and Krista heal and move on will be a long and arduous process, and could take a very long time. But he also knew that the team needed them, and he'd do his best to help them. The others meant well, but they could never understand Tommy, not really. To an extent, Kat understood Tommy, as she was chosen by Rita to try to defeat the Rangers. But she wasn't given a lost Power Coin, as Tommy was. She didn't come close to killing the Rangers, as Tommy, Conner, and Krista did. Tommy was the only one who truly understood, and he knew too well the guilt the former Evil Red and Green Rangers would carry. He hoped he was up to the task of helping them heal. Mesogog would not let up, and may even increase his attacks, now that the team has been weakened, and Conner was down. The fight was just beginning.
AN: I am very sorry that it took this long to update the fic. Things were hectic lately, and I also ran into the wall hard. I am working on all of my stories, so those who may be reading my Ninja Storm stories can rest assured that I have not abandoned them. I hope to have them updated before the end of next week, but don't know when I'd be able to update again.