Chapter 15: Lights Out
The moment the others had closed the hatch door above them, blocking what felt like their only lifeline left, Tommy almost wished he hadn't been so bold. It's not that the decision to actively search for answers to Zack's mysterious death was so brazen that only a fool would have made it, but it just wasn't safe.
Splitting the team up wasn't being safe, just as choosing to blindly walk into a trap of potentially fatal assassins wasn't being safe.
But that's what leaders were forced to do every day. Tommy must have forgotten what it took, because now that he wandered through the blanket of darkness, he felt an uncomfortable fear he could never speak of out loud.
"Jesus," Rocky voiced in disgust, as Tommy moved carefully alongside Jason up the dark tunnel they had moved into. "It smells like a mix between a slaughterhouse and a sewer down here..."
Tommy's nostrils scrunched at Rocky's words. "I wonder where all the water on the ground has run in from?" he wondered, as he felt the pungent water lick at his feet, soaking the bottom of his pants.
"Yeah, I don't think I wanna know some how," Rocky decided dryly. "Something tells me these assholes enjoy existing in their own shit. And clearly none of them knows how to change a light globe, either," he added, stopping before Tommy and throwing an extended hand toward what could barely be seen as a broken fluorescent light.
Something told Tommy the IBI didn't use their underground level on a day-to-day basis. There was little light on offer- an occasional smashed light extended a flicker of luminosity so they weren't walking through complete darkness and the air that rested above the water on the ground was as thick as heavy cloud.
And as cold as pure ice.
All in all, it was as clichéd as Tommy could remember Rita's space fortress being back in the days of ranger glory. So typically 'evil'.
He hugged his arms around his torso and peered through the dim light to his right, watching as Jason walked silently beside him, his head lowered slightly; uncomfortably so. It was almost as though his neck didn't have the strength to support it anymore.
Tommy swallowed his increasing concern and patted his best friend on the back as though they were having some jovial exchange. "You feeling okay, man? You're not feeling sick again, are you?"
"No, bro, I'm cool...My heads just pounding, that's all," he seemed to pull his head straighter as though to prove a point. "I'm just waiting for these Zedd or Putty clones to come jumping out at any moment...you guys think you can handle it?"
"I'm ready to smash their faces in," Rocky stated confidently.
Tommy considered Jason's question seriously for a moment. Could he take a group of super-strong villains on again with his bare hands? Sure, he was still relatively fit and his body could never forget the fifteen years he had dedicated to martial arts training, but he also had a few years of junk food and lower physical activity under his belt that would probably work against him somehwhat.
Tommy noticed Jason was staring at him. "You don't seem very confident there," the original ranger leader noted.
He shook his head. "Nuh man, I have a feeling that there's probably none of them left down here, anyway- Kimberly said she had left the hatch door open and that must have been how the mutated putties escaped from here and got in upstairs."
"We saw the putties, but we didn't see any Lord Zedd," Rocky pointed out. "You don't think he got over the fence outside, do you?"
Tommy felt the twinge inside. "Maybe Kimberly only thought she saw him…you know she's had…troubles because of what happened in Seréshis."
"She's not crazy, Tommy," Jason countered.
Tommy sighed, pursing his lips. "I didn't mean that, Jase-."
Rocky stopped in front of them and turned around. "What are you guys talking about? What troubles does Kim have?" he asked suspiciously.
Jason's face was all stone. Tommy shuffled between feet.
Rocky raised an eyebrow and turned back around, starting to pace again through the tunnel. "Man, I am really starting to get peeved with all the secrets and lies," he muttered distastefully. "Considering I used to regard you guys to be family, it's nothing but a frigging disgrace. Zordon would have done himself in if he'd been around to see this!"
Tommy started after him, Jason not too far behind.
"Rocky!" Tommy called out, starting into a lazy jog in an attempt to catch up with him. "Hey," he grabbed his shoulder from behind and forced him around.
Tommy had never seen such a look on Rocky's face before.
They both sighed, but Rocky's eyes' barely softened. "Let's just find Zack," he said.
Tommy nodded, feeling strangely ashamed.
Jason stepped up beside them, and gestured in the distance. "Am I seeing things, or does that look like some kind of door up there?"
Rocky spun around and the three men instantly straightened up, their eyes all focusing on what indeed appeared to be a door.
"Let's check it out," Tommy suggested, as his hands instantly clenched at his sides and his feet very cautiously moved toward the double steel doors.
"Can you hear anything from inside?" Jason asked him and Tommy shook his head.
He rested his hands on the handle and motioned with his eyes to Rocky and Jason to be prepared for anything. Jason counted him down "one, two, three" and Tommy pulled on the door with a loud grunt, releasing it as soon as it was open enough and dropped into an instant defensive stance.
No way…Holy Shit, it can't be-.
"Holy crap," Rocky murmured, straightening up behind him. "Looks like we've found the Command Center."
"How does it look?" Kimberly asked, twisting her neck in an attempt to peer over her shoulder. She pursed her lips a little when she realized she couldn't see down far enough to see the wound, and leveled her gaze on Adam.
"Well?" she coaxed him again.
Adam blinked thoughtfully, his face strained as serious as she'd ever seen it. "It seems to have stopped bleeding...but you should be careful, Kim- minimize movement until the wound has had the opportunity to seal itself to avoid any further complications."
"Yeah, well it's not like we're going anywhere soon," Aisha reminded them from where she stood beside the nearby door.
Her dark eyes were resting on the window as though waiting for the mutated putties to show up again. Kimberly could feel her throat tighten at the thought- and at the possibility that the mutated version of Lord Zedd was somehow wondering the maze of the IBI facility looking for them.
God, she hadn't thought seriously until now about the possibility that there were perhaps two, three, four- maybe a dozen of the alien empire's clones' hunting them down.
She gulped and looked around at what was left of her former teammates. They didn't stand a chance against a group of them, especially now that they were down three of their strongest.
Damn Tommy and his typical plan to rush off and save the world like the big hero.
Kimberly awkwardly straightened up as she felt Adam's cold hands brush her back again, his roughened fingers leaving moisture tingling her bruised skin as he tied the ties on her gown.
She offered him a smile as he finished and carefully slid off the bed, walking over to where Trini still lay unconscious. Billy had remained hovering over her body in a deflated stance and he touched her with his saddened blue eyes as she stepped up to his side.
The tears were just a matter of seconds away for her.
"God," Kimberly whispered; almost gasped.
Billy didn't respond and his eyes only seemed to close tighter as her breath withered away.
God, he's completely lost it...she thought dismally, as her eyes drifted back to Trini. She couldn't avoid that inbuilt distress she had looking at her friend of so many years dwindling away, but this strange, almost selfish fear was starting to tear inside of her.
Was Trini dying because of the drug the officers had tried to kill her with, or was she dying because of her former ranger powers? Kimberly knew that was what Tommy, Jason and Rocky were trying to find out, but she was starting to lose the plot just standing around and thinking about the possibilities.
Kimberly looked down at her dirty hands. She hadn't seen her skin glow now for hours and hours, maybe more. Was that enough to convince her that the sickening premonition of death by their powers was nothing more than a twisted story that Agent Johns had concocted to drag them all there?
She looked back at Trini. Was she just imagining the yellow tinge that covered her skin?
No. No, she wasn't imagining it, because the others had seen it. Aisha had seen it. Adam had seen it.
So what was the real danger? Their pasts or the people trying to cover them up?
"Kim?" Katherine's gentle voice stirred her, as she tenderly touched her shoulder.
Kimberly tried to smile, but she was failing miserably. "I can't help but feel that waiting around here like this is wrong," Kimberly whispered to her. "Who knows how long Jason, Tomm-."
"Guys!" Aisha's voice panicked out, and they all spun around.
Kimberly threw her hand to her mouth, a strangled shriek clogging her throat. "No!" she gasped. "You guys, it's them!"
The mutated pack of putties were back again and it was too late to hide this time; too late to duck under beds.
"Get away from the door!" Adam hurried at Aisha as he grabbed her arm and dragged her away from it.
They huddled together, Kimberly surprised as Billy stepped up and actually moved in front of herself and Katherine protectively.
The mutants' deformed expressions were pushed up against the glass now, filling the window. The door was rattling loudly against their crazed pressure. Their constant whining noise pierced like a knife against a plate.
The door was starting to loosen.
"We have to find a way out of here now," Adam stated the obvious, none of them brave enough it seemed to move from their tight huddle.
Kimberly glanced around the room. There were only two doors. One was now blocked, and the other was close to it as the mutants closed in on the tiny sanctuary the infirmary had been offering them.
"We're trapped," Kimberly breathed out, "They're at both doors."
Adam glanced over his shoulder at them. "We have no choice, guys- we have to go down below," he announced.
Kimberly's mouth opened. "No! No, that's not an option!"
Adam moved for the hatch in the center of the room, cursing angrily as he struggled to move it open.
"Now guys!" he urged.
Kimberly couldn't move, though. Billy, Aisha and Katherine all hurried to help the former black ranger open their escape hatch to the literal hell below, but Kimberly just stared as she clung to Trini's limp hand as though drawing her strength.
"Kim, come on," Aisha pleaded with her, as Billy and Adam begun to lower Katherine through the hole.
Kimberly shook her head. "We'll be trapped down there," she argued. She looked at Trini, her body still oblivious to the horrors that were happening around her. "What about Trini?"
Adam moved toward Kimberly and grabbed her around the wrist, but they both fell into each other as the door behind them suddenly swung open and bodies flooded in. They were the mutated putties that Kimberly had been attacked by when she was below. But amongst them was a clone of her- and Kimberly was mesmerized.
Adam dragged her toward the hatch, not bothering to waste a moment standing around.
"We can't leave Trini!" Kimberly argued, as Adam forced her toward the opening in the ground. "Adam, please!"
The clone ran over to them, shrieking manically and flinging her arms out at the mutated putties as if to shoo them away.
"Run!" she shrieked at them. "Run! Run! Run!" she chanted.
Kimberly closed her eyes and let Adam push her through the opening. She fell blindly into Billy's awaiting arms of cushion below and scurried out of the way as Adam lowered himself down after her and pulled the hatch closed.
Leaving them in the darkness.
Staring through his own darkness mixed with moonshine, Phillip Hart was lost in his own exhaustion. Had it been a few hours earlier he may have found his way to some kind of cheap solace, but he'd been thinking too hard and his head hurt like hell. He was so tired he could cry- but he'd wasted enough tears since he'd returned home from the police station, branded the father of a cop killer.
The house was so quiet.
His insides screamed for his daughter. Everything about her was suddenly so ugly and screwed up. They were so close when she was young and it was the fond memories of those times that kicked him in the heart now. He didn't even know who Kimberly Hart was anymore.
He flinched a little as his cell phone began to wail on his nightstand, but he left his head on the pillow and didn't bother to acknowledge it. He couldn't stand to go through another conversation with his estranged wife. Not now. Besides, he blamed her for their daughter's breakdown more than he did himself.
His only real fault in this was his ignorance; His reliance on tabloid news and sugary-sweet phone calls to upkeep what he thought was a typical father-daughter relationship. Caroline had a whole damn list of indiscretions- when Kimberly had decided to take up ice staking after such a sudden departure from gymnastics, she had been the one to encourage it. At the time Phillip swore his daughter had somehow derailed off the tracks, but what could he do? Caroline was the one to speak up for Kimberly to deliver perfectly good reasons as to why their daughter suddenly alienated her childhood friends, moved even further away from anyone that truly cared about her and how gymnastics was the reason why she was suddenly so injury prone.
Now he suddenly finds out that she'd been receiving psychiatric counseling for almost five years? Five years!
The cell went off again. And again. And again.
"What?" he practically snarled into the phone as he shoved it to the side of his head and sat up in a sweat.
"Jesus Christ, Phillip I've been trying to call you for over thirty minutes. I was just about to drive over-."
"I don't want you over here," he cut Caroline off coolly. "Unless this has something to do with Kim than I'd really rather you just stop ringing my phone."
"Aren't you watching the news?" she asked him, not responding to his bite like normal. "Remember those creatures that used to appear in Angel Grove all the time, the ones that the power rangers killed?"
Phillip frowned into the darkness. "Caroline, they were destroyed, what's your point…I don't under-."
"They're back, Phillip!" she harped. "Down at Jackson Boulevard all the way past Swift Street, they're everywhere and…"
Philip lowered the phone from his ear and fumbled through the dark for the remote to the television. He heard it flick on, and as the picture came into full focus he found himself moving closer to the screen, unable to believe what he was seeing.
He reached down for his discarded cell phone and put it back to his ear.
"Caroline, where are you now?" he asked her hoping she was still on the line.
"I'm staying at the Ritz Plaza…they're evacuating everyone here. Phillip, you have to get Ryan out of there and somewhere safe!"
Phillip sighed and stood up, as he fumbled to pull some clothes on. He was about to tell his ex-wife to relax; to stay calm when the phone line suddenly dropped out and he was left in the silence again.
Rocky was speechless.
The sensation of laying sight on their old ranger headquarters was nothing short of a shock yet nothing could have felt momentarily better. The old Rocky back years earlier would have probably jumped into the air and given his two friends high-fives and broken out with a swift one-liner, but that was back then. Back when being at the Command Center generally meant that ranger business had brought them there, but that at the same time, it was the security net that held them all together.
Just as the Center had been a home to them, routines were so implanted in them all that Rocky could distinctly remember the tics and movements like clock-work. They would teleport in and Billy would almost always float over to the control panel to the right of the ringed-shape chamber, whilst Tommy would take a step in front of the others who would stand together at attention in a straight line.
Then, they'd all do it together- They would lift their chins up high and gaze toward the chamber of wisdom, to Zordon's merciful, singular being, knowing that no matter what news he delivered, he would guide his 'children' through any challenge.
That was back then, though. Back so long ago. Back before everything went so God-damned wrong.
It wasn't the Command Center that he, Tommy and Jason had discovered today- it was some large, dirty room that had locked away what the IBI had clearly cleaned out from their real ranger headquarters.
Alpha wasn't there to greet them this day, for his mangled form still stood up above in the IBI fortress where Billy and Adam had found him. Bits and pieces of what had clearly belonged to the rounded panels that had circled the inner-circumference of the Command Center were leaning against the room's steeled walls like worthless junk at a market.
At the back of the room stood the familiar ball of insight; the Viewing Globe was still intact, chunky leads and wires from it tangled across the damp floor to yet another computer system perched on a tiny desk.
What looked to be the center's old monitoring and scanning system was sitting on a metal table to one side of the room, while on the other stood a rather elaborate set-up of computer workstations, monitors and cabinets. Improvised fluorescent lights hung from the high ceiling above, shrouding them in light that they hadn't had when back out in the tunnel.
Giving them enough light to clearly see just how bad things were messed up.
Rocky gazed up as he heard a loud crunching noise from across the room and watched quietly as Tommy seemed to angrily stalk about, his stray fist hitting the wall like a nervous tick with every step.
Jason was like a statue in the corner, his dark eyes hauntingly searching for the one thing that was missing from the scenario.
Tommy was talking to himself, mumbling away.
"We need to find Zack," Jason spoke up numbly.
Rocky looked at his predecessor, but didn't respond.
Jason sighed loudly. "Tommy, stop pacing."
"Maybe we should go back and get Billy down here?" Rocky suggested rather numbly himself.
Billy used to be able to solve all their problems.
Tommy moved his hands to his face, and seemed to rub at his eyes, his cheeks. "Let's take a look around for anything that's worth salvaging, and then continue on and look for Zack."
The three men shared a glance and nodded silently in agreement. Rocky moved little and began sifting through a nearby cabinet, finding little of remarkable interest. He kept on finding piles of papers with abstract graphs and diagrams, but none of them made any sense to him. Nothing looked as though it had been touched in a while. It appeared as though everything was intended to stay neat and orderly, but the buildup of dampness and mold over time gave the appearance otherwise.
"Looks like another pointless lab to me," Jason spoke out loud from where he was crouched nearby.
Rocky snickered bitterly. "Guess the assholes didn't realize that they'd break everything by ripping it apart," he murmured as he moved over to the next cabinet.
He leaned forward slightly and squinted at the handle when it appeared to be stuck. Pulling on it with all the frustration he had build up, he jerked on the metal handle so violently that it came lose, bringing the door open with it.
Rocky squinted his eyes like a reflex, momentarily caught off guard by the light that blinded him from inside the delicate cabinet.
"Guys," he called out over his shoulder. "Take a look at this."
Rocky gazed back at the glowing box while his two friends joined him and he carefully removed the mystical item from the inside of the cabinet.
"What do you think is in this?" he wondered, glancing up over his shoulder.
Tommy licked his lips. "I wouldn't open that, Rocky- we should take it back up to Billy to-."
Rocky released a frustrated breath, cutting Tommy off before he slowly proceeded to lift the lid off the box.
"I can't believe it-."
"They look like our coins," Rocky finished Jason's sentence.Then the lights went out.