Chapter 16: It's Morphin Time!
The sound of electricity seemed to crawl along the walls of the tunnel around them, causing them all to stop mid-jog and watch as the only lights to give them sight began to flicker and spasm, before they dropped out.
The lapping of water around their feet became so caustic through the complete darkness that now suddenly consumed them.
A small whimper sounded from before him. "The lights..." Kimberly whispered.
Billy felt a shiver touch his spine. In the distance, he could hear a muffled rumbling from an unclear direction; sound from above them. Clicking. And then as suddenly as it had left them, light suddenly shot on and swelled from the broken globes along their path, the out of place humming continuing on as Billy's eyes readjusted.
He looked over at his friends, sharing their own relief. "That must have been the back-up generator," he guessed.
"Let's get going then," Adam suggested, starting back up the seemingly endless tunnel.
Billy allowed the three girls in first, and then stayed at the back of the group. No one was running now- the unbearable chill in the air had quickly consumed them all, and even Billy found himself wrapping his arms across his chest for unfounded warmth.
"Do you remember how far up those rooms were, Kim?" Adam asked from up the front.
Billy could see the vapor as Kimberly replied wearily. "I'm really not sure…everything happened so fast."
"I wonder how far up the boys are?" Aisha wondered.
Katherine hugged herself tighter. "Hopefully they found Zack," she shared. She flicked a look over her shoulder, her blond hair swinging around with the motion. "Are you all right Billy?"
Billy smiled tightly, appreciating the tenderness in her voice and nodded his head. It was a lie, of course and he was certainly anything but all right, but at least he felt numb. Had it not been for the others he wondered if he would have even bothered to flee the mutants that had broken into the infirmary above...there was literally nothing of importance left for him in the world, asides from making sure his former teammates survived this battle.
As for him, it didn't really matter anymore. He had lost everything and so much more, too much for any of it to be worth it. It was the reason Billy knew Zordon never allowed them to share their ranger lives with those closest to them outside of the circle; knowledge was danger. And it was the reason Billy had done all he could to gain access into the IBI during the five years his father had worked there.
His father had gotten too close to the secret, despite all of Billy's efforts. And it wasn't even worth anything. Nothing! That alone just deadened Billy's core and everything he ever believed in.
"Guys, I think we're getting close," Kimberly abruptly perked up. "I remember that light hanging down there, because I ran into it and it scared the shit out of me."
Billy glanced up at a light dangling from a cord attached to the ceiling as Adam stopped and glanced over at them.
"I see a door up ahead," he announced with something resembling an almost relieved smile.
Kimberly looked over at Billy quickly with a touch of fear and he reached around her shoulder in support, the group walking hesitantly toward the ajar door. Adam pushed the door the remaining distance and stepped through first, motioning back at them that it was safe to enter.
Aisha frowned deeply. "Where are Tommy, Rocky and Jason?" she asked.
Adam shrugged a little. "They must have taken the other direction down the tunnel," he guessed.
"Or maybe they've already been here and didn't find anything?" Katherine suggested.
Adam glanced over at the wall lined with what Billy recognized as being cold chambers, almost identical in appearance to what he had become familiar with during a work experience stint he'd done with a pathology class at AGU.
"Guess we'll just have to see," Adam said, as he moved to the first row of doors and began pulling them open one after the other.
Nothing. Empty. Empty. Adam continued on and quickened his pace, but stopped as a door in the third column swung open to reveal a bulky form, wrapped completely in a thick body bag.
"Oh my God," Kimberly murmured sickly, bringing her hand up to cover her mouth.
Adam looked over at them, before he grabbed hold of a thick handle and pulled sharply on it. The internal bed clambered out of its chamber and rested only a few feet from Billy. From the size; the shape, there was little to no doubt in his mind that they had found the deceased remains of a human.
Billy watched Adam's hand paused on the metallic handle, his dark eyes resting on Billy before he glanced over at their female teammates. "You guys should turn around," he suggested gently.
Katherine and Aisha both followed his words, but Kimberly remained motionless, as though she hadn't heard him. She blinked and slowly followed suit as Aisha reached for her and tugged on her gown to entice her around.
Billy swallowed. Hard. He didn't know if he could look himself.
Adam moved his hands up to where the top of the covered form seemed to be and he locked onto the zip, tugging and pulling at it to unzip. The mechanism screeched and jumped awkwardly; snagging and catching every few inches it gained. Adam seemed to grunt with frustration, but Billy didn't try to take over.
He looked over at the others instead, noticing Kimberly's wayward glance trickle discreetly over her shoulder. Billy sighed and slowly walked over to the original pink ranger and placed a gentle hand on her shoulder, clearly surprising her.
"Don't look, Kim..." he whispered tenderly.
He could feel her whole body shake. "It's him, isn't it?" she whispered, her voice quivering.
"Billy-." Adam's voice came out as though in shock and Billy immediately looked back over at him.
"Something's not right here," Adam continued.
"What do you mean?" Billy asked him as he cautiously walked toward the metal bed, the body bag now unzipped, but it's baggy curves still hiding Zack's body from view.
"You told us that Zack died as a result of internal damage caused by his powers..."
Billy stopped mid-step. "Yes...that's what my father told me."
Adam looked up at him. "Look at this."
Billy took one step, and then another, continuing forward until Zack's motionless body slowly unveiled. Black pants still clung to his legs...the skin on his arms was untouched, but hauntingly dark and as Billy's eyes crawled up further, the rest just blurred and he inhaled.
"No..." he breathed out. "No...it can't be..."
Katherine's eyes circled aimlessly, her fingers rolling anxiously in her palms.
"Guys- what is it?" she asked.
Beside her, Kimberly was fidgeting uncontrollably.
Katherine tried to sneak a look over her shoulder when neither Billy nor Adam replied. Feeling instantly guilty, she snapped her eyes back before her as Kimberly swiftly swung around.
A shaky release; a whisper. "Oh my-."
Katherine and Aisha both moved around as Billy practically barged Kimberly backward.
Kimberly pushed him back, stumbling awkwardly as she flung her arms forward. "They killed him!" she shrieked.
"Kim!" Katherine cried, her heart pounding as she tried to see the horror before them.
There Zack was- his skin unnaturally dark, its formally toned surface almost jelly like. But as disturbing the sight of a dead body was, particularly in such wretched circumstances, it was not that which took the air from her lungs.
"You said his powers killed him, Billy," Aisha rushed out.
Katherine could feel the tears seeping in the corner of her eyes. She'd never felt so lost, so torn apart.
The gunshot through the original black ranger's temple was as clear as day, just as was the realization that no one could survive such an injury. The impact had completely shattered the left half of his head; his face was almost un-recognizable under a black-like substance that was smeared over his clothes and exposed skin.
Katherine reached her hand to cover her mouth. She had never laid eyes on something so graphic before in her life and the bile in her stomach was licking at the inside of her throat.
They all just stared.
Billy began to dry wretch as he crouched down to the ground right before Kimberly began to cry beside Katherine.
Katherine squeezed her eyes closed, but snapped them open as Kimberly suddenly spun around and brushed roughly past her, racing out of the room.
"Kim!" Katherine called out, before she fled after her friend, her gait staggered and feeble.
She began up the dark tunnel, her emotions spiraling her forward. She tried calling after Kimberly half a dozen times and could hear her scattered movements up ahead, but the darkness became thicker and Katherine quickly found herself becoming disorientated.
"Kimberly!" Katherine called out again, as she stopped and then awkwardly flung herself forward again. "Kimberly, come back!"
Katherine felt her voice crack and she let out a tiny whimper as she lost focus on Kimberly's movements ahead of her. Without any word to ease Katherine's mind, Kimberly was suddenly untraceable in the pure darkness.
"Kim-." Katherine stopped and cried out a little feebly as she felt her legs collide with a misplaced object and she blindly fell on all fours to the slightly flooded floor below.
She spun around and threw her hands out blindly, pulling them back as she felt her fingers run over a whimpering heap.
"Kim?" Katherine whispered hesitantly. "Kim, are you okay?"
Katherine rested her hand on what felt like Kimberly's shoulder and felt a shudder race through her as the icy temperature suddenly registered in her brain.
"I-I…" Kimberly's voice was barely a whisper. "Katherine I can't, I..."
Her words trailed off into another bout of tears and Katherine moved closer to her. She folded her arms around her friend and buried her face into her long, tangled hair.
Kimberly sniffled loudly and gently straightened herself up as though she had just regained consciousness. "Why would they kill Zack like that?" she questioned, her voice drenched in sadness. "Zack was such a good guy, such a wonderful person…"
Katherine wiped a tear from her cheek. "I never imagined that being rangers would bring us to meet a horror far worse than Lord Zedd and Rita," she murmured.
She felt Kimberly squeeze her hand, before they both released a strained sigh in unison. Katherine wanted so badly to stand up and get out of the icy, stagnant water but she didn't know if she honestly had he strength to do it. The darkness was all too consuming. She almost felt as though if she remained there for long enough, she wouldn't exist anymore.
She felt numb with fear. Too scared to move yet too scared to stay where she was.
Kimberly flinched and inhaled, her movement disturbing the water where they were crouched.
"What was that?" Kimberly whispered.
Katherine swallowed. "We need to go back and find the others…" she replied.
Kimberly slowly stood up and pulled on Katherine to follow, the two girls huddling closely together, before a distant, yet familiar sound drifted toward them.
"That's Billy!" Katherine let out with relief. "Billy! We're down here!"
Katherine linked her arm with Kimberly and moved in closely toward her as she heard the splashing of footsteps approach their position. It was almost nauseating being unable to see what surrounded them, but she could here the little things; Aisha's murmuring, Billy's loud breathing- all those things were enough to relax Katherine into believing they weren't in any immediate danger.
"We're here," Katherine replied again.
She flinched as she felt gentle hands brush her torso. "You guys scared the hell out of us, don't ever do that again," Adam said. There was no anger in his voice, just relief.
"We need to try and find some light-."
Katherine gasped a little and turned around into Adam as a stream of light suddenly cut through from behind them, a shocked but familiar pair of eyes staring back at them wide-eyed.
"What are you guys doing out there?" Jason asked them. "Quick; get in here."
Jason pushed his feet awkwardly through the water, meeting up with the two former pink rangers before hurrying them in through the door into the laboratory. He grabbed hold of the steel framed entrance and watched with quiet relief as he counted the remainder of his friends making their way over.
As soon as Adam came through last, Jason forced the door back close and spun around in time for all the questions to come.
"What are you guys doing down here?" Tommy asked.
But the five newly arrived rangers were too blown away by the dismantled remains of their former ranger headquarters, or at least that's what it seemed before Jason approached them and noticed how red and puffy Kimberly and Katherine's eyes were- how pale with slick sweat Billy appeared.
Jason weaved through them and stopped beside Kimberly, watching as her shattered gaze so obviously dodged his and fell off to the ground.
"What happened?" he asked her softly.
She moved her hand to cover her face, crying softly.
Rocky responded immediately.
"Kim, it's okay, you should see what we've found-."
"Zack didn't die," Kimberly's words were muffled before she dropped her hand and stared coldly at every single one of them. "They shot him...they put a gun to his head and murdered him!"
"What?" Jason let out.
"We found his body in cold storage a few bends up the tunnel to the right," Adam reported calmly; covering any emotions well. He sighed. "I'm really sorry guys, but Kimberly's right. From the close range injuries to Zack's temple, it's obvious that somebody shot him. No one ever could have survived it."
Jason felt everything inside him just pain and cement at the very same moment. He closed his eyes, but tried not to move, fearing his legs would give way to the cloud in his head.
Rocky angrily swiped his arm out in response and cursed, while Tommy merely ran a hand over his hair and stared intently at Jason.
Kimberly released a sharp breath. "Does this mean that our powers aren't killing us?" she asked in a small voice.
Rocky snickered in disgust. Jason swallowed hard, feeling the anger begin to boil inside.
Adam motioned to Rocky with a cock of his chin. "You said you guys found something," he reminded him.
"What? You mean besides the fact that our Command Center has been ripped to shreds and is now sitting around here collecting dust?" Aisha muttered.
Jason walked over to the nearby counter and carefully picked up the box that Rocky had discovered. He slowly opened it and turned it carefully moving it so everyone could see the inside.
"We've found what look to be our first set of coins and morphers," Jason stated. "Rocky found them in one of the cabinets in here…it looks like they were trying to empower them again…" he looked at Billy. "What do you think they were doing with them, Billy?"
Billy sighed and carefully took the box from Jason, rotating it around in his hands as he studied it with a stony face. "These are indeed power coins and morphers, but they're replicas…" he lowered the box from before his face. "It's manufactured power, like everything else in this facility."
Tommy slowly began to pace, speaking his thoughts out loud as he used to so famously do in the past. "So it's obvious they've been trying to recreate everything about our ranger lives – us, Zedd, our powers- but why?"
"And why would they do it here in such broken down facilities?" Adam added.
"It's obvious there are several levels of power within the organization- while the top floor, front of shop can't begin to be penetrated from the outside world, not even the workers up there probably knew what was happening down here," Billy hypothesized. "No funding has gone into any of these testing facilities. It's as though they don't exist. My father was…if this so-called project had been on an official agenda of the IBI's, he would have known about it. He didn't know."
Jason looked thoughtfully at the box still resting in Billy's hands. He went to speak, but his voice caught in his throat. He cleared it, wincing inwardly. "Why do you think they would go to the effort to recreate our power coins, yet build them on Zordon's oldest technology?"
Billy lowered the box on the nearby cabinet and took out one of the coins. "My guess would be because the ninjetti powers would have been far too superior for them to even begin to understand, let alone reproduce..." his words trailed off and he continued to almost whisper to himself.
"What is it, Billy?" Katherine asked.
He shook his head a little, before he quickly removed each of the coins and matched them up with their applicable morpher. "I think we should see if they work," he decided, throwing a quick look in their direction.
Jason frowned and exchanged a look with Tommy, the rest of them quick to join in their share of confusion at Billy's suggestion.
"Uh, Billy...I think it's pretty clear that they've demolished the Command Center..." Aisha reminded him gently. "You said to Katherine before that the morphing grid would be destroyed."
Billy didn't respond and instead extended morphers before him. "Kimberly and Jason; take one of these each," he told them.
Jason hesitated, but took the crimson colored morpher from his friend. The familiar feel in his palm was sentimentally too much for a private moment. All the times he had wished he could go back and be a ranger all over again. To feel the way he used to when he had the power of the red ranger bumbling through his veins.
Kimberly looked at Jason with a clear frown. "Billy, I still don't understand how this is supposed to work," she shared dubiously.
Billy picked up the cobalt colored morpher. "These coins are counterfeited, just like they've tried to produce clones of us- if they've taken the project to such extremities, then it's not such a stretch to believe that they could have also manufactured a power grid of their own."
Jason raised his eyebrows a little, surprised at how much twisted sense Billy's theory made.
"It's Morphin time!" he declared.