Chapter 21: Faded
Tommy's body instantly jolted, his arms flinging tensely before him as one after the other flooded through the door like a swarming illusion.
From somewhere behind him he heard his female teammates shriek and cry out in panic; Beside him, Rocky and Adam both pushed aside chairs, while Billy and Jason succinctly dropped into defensive stances nearby.
"Stay in front of the girls," Tommy stammered, before he grunted and clenched his fists.
The first heavily armored mutant pulled up only a handful of feet before them and let out a mind-blowing holler, banging its heavy fists against its metallic chest.
"Damn, looks like nobody's bothered to polish and shine Goldar since Seréshis," Rocky muttered.
"What'd we do?" Kimberly cried out.
Tommy flicked a look over his shoulder. "Stay back, we need to-."
Tommy felt his entire stomach scream and roll as the lightening reflex caught sharply beneath his ribs. His balance twisted and he felt Rocky's hands grasp him by the shoulders and shove him back to standing.
"Don't fight!" Tommy rushed out to his teammates. "Pull back!"
He reached out behind him and grabbed hold of Kimberly, pulling her roughly against his back.
"Rocky!" Aisha cried out, and Tommy spun around in time to watch as another Goldar clone latched onto the former red ranger and threw him heavily against nearby shelving.
The monsters' continued their approach and within one-two-three seconds, Tommy was overcome, lost in a whirlwind of screaming, howling, flailing limbs and falling bodies.
He couldn't hear anyone; he couldn't see anyone.
Tommy pushed blindly forward, but slipped, catching a heavy fist to the side of his face. His head literally snapped, and he sent a wash of saliva and fresh blood out from the abrupt impact.
Kimberly was suddenly beside his aching body, her arm clinging desperately around his torso. With his vision still glazed, he watched helplessly as she tried to crawl to crouching.
"No!" she shrieked, as she dived her body down against his, just missing another fist targeted for her.
Tommy scrambled up, pushing her behind him. He leveraged his weight heavily against the tarnished creature's legs and it stumbled back, buying Tommy enough time to find his feet.
He jerked Kimberly up behind him. His eyes locked in on Jason nearby, sprawled on his hands and knees.
"Jason!" Tommy called out, as he started for his best friend.
Katherine and Billy's raised voices echoed from some other direction.
Tommy scurried to his knees as he dodged another mutant, but he was jerked back around as Kimberly's hand was ripped from his. He tried reaching for her, but could only watch as the gold hands continued to pull her away from him.
Kimberly screamed out hysterically, hands flicking and legs trying to kick back for her freedom. Tommy leapt after her, tackling the creature at its shoulders. The momentum sent Tommy continuing to the ground, as the mutant clone's grip on Kimberly slipped somewhat.
Tommy grunted and barreled toward the heavily clad creature again, but it swung madly and diverted him, before sending a sickening palm to the side of Kimberly's face. The force sent the pink ranger's petite figure flat to the ground, before the deformed Goldar pounced over her and moved its muzzle to the top of her torso.
"No! Please! No, no, NO!"
"Get off her!" Tommy barreled into the crazed creature again, knocking it onto its back.
Kimberly was still shrieking and wailing deliriously, her eyes squeezed shut and body wriggling, despite Tommy's intervention. He grabbed her arms and pulled her up, watching her eyes snap open in shock.
"Oh god..." she let out in relief, as Tommy swiftly smudged the blood from her nose across her cheek. Her chin began quivering uncontrollably. "They're going to kill us..." she began to almost hyperventilate.
Tommy tugged on her hand and quickly pulled her toward the closest wall, before he spun back around for a quick re-evaluation of the ambush. He counted them quickly- twenty or so direct copies of Zedd and Rita's former chief servant were aimlessly rampaging around the tight room. Finally he could see his friends amongst the carnage, but it was a frightening revelation.
No one could fight. Every single one of them was either ducked, huddled or sprawled on the floor.
Tommy felt his neck tense as one of the tarnished mandrill's noticed both he and Kimberly were free from their direct menace. It locked its glowing eyes on them and hypnotically began to drag its legs toward them.
"Jesus..." Tommy growled until his breath. He felt Kimberly dig her finger nails into the backs of his arms.
"Jason needs help!" Billy suddenly raised his voice above the mutants' incessant snarling.
Tommy tried to find both of his old friends, but the approaching clone blocked all of his view.
"Stay away!" Kimberly suddenly screamed at it, before she leapt a little forward and flung her fists against its chest.
The monster was slow to react and Tommy didn't hesitate before he sent a solid leg to its right knees and a lengthened arm to its chest. It lashed its limbs out toward him, raking both of its razor claws down his bare arms.
"Argh!" Tommy moaned, as he kicked at it again and broke free.
The creature stumbled and twisted awkwardly.
"Come on!" Tommy hissed at Kimberly, before he clamped his hand around hers and dragged her behind him.
Tommy knocked over chairs, rebounded off furniture; papers and bits and pieces went everywhere. Kimberly was calling out behind him, but he didn't stop to listen to her. Honest to God, they were two seconds away from being eaten alive and he couldn't fight the innate rush to find safety at all cost-.
He stopped suddenly and Kimberly collided into him.
Tommy could barely breathe as he eyed the cloned Goldar with pure distress. It was the only thing blocking them from one of the exits out- but unlike some of the others, the color of its armor was a touch lifeless; the glow of its eyes somewhat faded.
Tommy jerked heavily on Kimberly and dragged her behind him. He struck his free arm out, pushing heavily against the creature's sturdy chest, but it didn't do so much as weakly counter, before stumbling backward. Kimberly cried out; Tommy just kept on going and fell out into the darkness of the tunnel, scampering around as soon as he found his balance.
"Tommy!" Kimberly was breathless, struggling to get to her knees beside him. "We need to go back for the others-."
"There's no time for that," Tommy cut her off, standing up quickly, and pulling heavily on her arms.
She winced loudly with his movement, as Rocky's voice was heard yelling out from the now devastated underground laboratory. Tommy grabbed hold of his forehead, but jumped quickly as Kimberly darted back for the room.
From behind, he held his arms tightly around her shoulders. "Don't, Kim!" he pleaded. "Let's find a way to get those things out of there, right now."
Jason couldn't explain the feeling, even if he were somewhere completely different and actually capable of moving his lips. As it was, he couldn't feel the heavy weight on top of him, but he could feel the shadows of the powerful beast hovering above his broken body. He could try to call for help. See, he's trying now.
But not even his lips moved to trace out his agony.
Jason! Jason! Jason!
The shadows above him stirred and he forced his eyes to chase their movements, before a sudden set of brown eyes stared back at his with a feverish anticipation.
"Jason? Jason, where are you hurt?" Aisha begged him, as she began to pull on him, as though trying to get him to move.
The feeling returned to his limbs, but even as he moved to sit with her aid, an overwhelming sense of disillusion almost brought tears to his eyes. The room was an absolute mess- as though he'd waken up in some demented, messed-up reality.
He grabbed his head, realizing how loud his ears were ringing. "I'm okay," he tried to offer the former yellow ranger.
"Guys!" Adam's voice called out at them from near the exit, his arms gesturing wildly in his direction.
Jason sighed, and lowered his hand, noting the blood now stamped across his palm. Man, he was so thirsty.
How long had he been out of it for?
"Are you capable of standing?" Billy asked, as he suddenly appeared at Jason's side.
He nodded feebly and allowed the pair to help him to standing, before he looked around again, counting in his head, adding them all up, wondering who was missing?
"Where did they injure you?" Billy asked him, as they gingerly moved toward the exit of the demolished laboratory. "You were unconscious for a long time..."
Jason's eyes trailed across the ground, wondering over the broken plastic, dented steel panels and armored bodies sprawled motionless beneath their feet.
"Jason?" Billy asked again.
"I'm okay," he finally replied, stopping just at the exit as he noticed Adam hovering over Katherine's hunched over form.
"Is Katherine okay?" Aisha asked with concern.
The blond raised her head and managed to look over them, braving a smile as though to counter the deep gash to the side of her neck.
"She'll be okay," Adam assured them.
Rocky was resting against the door's frame, holding his arm gingerly, his face twisted uncomfortably. "Where the hell did Tommy and Kimberly go?" he muttered, moving to roughly push the sleeves of his business shirt up.
"I saw them both escape a while ago," Billy admitted. "But I have no idea where they were going."
Jason relaxed somewhat. At least his absent friends weren't lying dead amongst the rubble behind him.
"How did you take care of the clones?" Jason wondered.
The ambush and subsequent struggle felt like a really bad dream now. Jason's own recollection was blurry- and clearly incomplete, given the last thing he could remember was believing they were all going to die there.
Rocky shifted the weight of his body uncomfortably. "There was only two or three of them that actually had any real strength. The rest of them were weak as piss..."
Billy rested his hands on his hips, breathing carefully. "None of the clones displayed any intellectual tenancies...none of them talked and they all appeared faded to some degree," he paused and rubbed his face. "We need to find Kimberly and Tommy."
Rocky nodded, straightening up, as Adam and Katherine followed in suit.
"I'll go first," Rocky told them, stepping through the gaping entrance. To Jason, it sounded more like an order than his successor volunteering, but nobody bothered to object.
Jason was actually surprised by Rocky's nature, which was in such a contradiction to what he'd conjured up from long distance phone calls to Kimberly and Tommy. The pink ranger had always referred to Rocky as being "so funny" and "cool", but now that Jason had spent such considerable time with him, he wondered if maybe Kimberly had held back on Rocky's attributes in a unconscious effort of protecting Jason's feelings or pride.
It was eerily quiet out in the tunnel, with just enough light to make out the outlines of everyone's bodies. But Jason found a strange solace in the dark that he hadn't back in the laboratory. Staying to the back of the group he had enough cover to actually feel his own pain and scream under his breath at it without worrying what the others might think of him.
"Tommy?" Rocky suddenly called out, and the noise flew through the air around them, echoing like crazy.
"Come on," Rocky voiced for them all to follow again, and feet scrambled faster this time, the tunnel gradually lighting up as they approached a bend in it-.
They all fell into each other as Rocky collided heavily with Tommy who had been clearly sprinting in the opposite direction. Jason scrambled to his feet and sighed loudly. Thank God. Rocky cursed under his breath, before he slapped Tommy's hand and patted him on the back.
"God, am I glad to see you guys are okay..."
"Yeah, well you scared the shit out of us, where did you go?" Rocky asked him.
"One of those things nearly began to eat Kimberly in front of me, so I got her out and we tried to find something to go back and fight with..." he stopped, and tried to clear the rasp in his throat. "You guys are never gonna believe what we've found down here."
They all shared an anxious glance, before they trampled after Tommy, following the tight bend of the tunnel. It wasn't long before the passageway changed shape and they came across the first cage.
Jason glanced around the dimly lit room, the smell of mold and God knows what else almost too much- there were more of them. Doors, cages, cells...clones.
Tommy stopped and turned to look at them. "This must be where they kept all the rejects," he stated bitingly.
There were three clones in the first small cage, which was such a tight fit that their bodies were practically meshed together. Their skin was almost see-through, so thinly wrapped around their limbs that Jason could clearly see the bones and veins beneath.
And the sound...there were so many clones in the room, but none of them spoke. All Jason could sporadically hear was a misplaced whimper or grimace as though their lips were bounded together.
"Oh man," Rocky was dumbstruck, as the group of friends walked past more cages. "How many times did these son-of-a-bitches have to fuck up before they realized their friggin' cloning experiment was a failure?"
Katherine was barely walking. "Why would they keep them like this? It's awful..."
And then suddenly, Kimberly's voice called out to them all from up ahead.
"Guys! Come look at this!"
Kimberly was immersed in the moment, everything was so quiet and her tired mind- so very, very tired, was mesmerized and saddened by what she had stumbled upon.
More clones. But these were so...different.
They were like colored ghosts.
She grasped one of the vertical bars between them and slowly crouched down, as she heard the trampling feet of her teammates approach from behind. They were talking and probably speaking words or asking questions to her, but she didn't listen to them at first.
Kimberly swallowed, as she moved her head to look up at Tommy and Billy, before turning back to stare again.
"What are they?" Adam asked up quietly.
Kimberly looked up again as she felt hands brush her shoulders; her back.
Billy's sigh whispered past her cheek, as Aisha spoke up with disbelief. "Were they experimenting with new powers?" she asked.
"I really can't explain it," Billy began. "They're fully morphed, and yet I have no comprehension of where they are drawing powers from to remain in a clearly permanent morphed state..."
"Or why they're so faded," Kimberly added as Jason rested a hand on her shoulder and leaned forward.
"They look like they're in pain," he noted despondently.
Kimberly released a disheartened breath. "Do you think they can hear us?" she wondered.
She felt a hand squeeze her shoulder. "I don't think so, Kim," Jason replied. "And it's probably a good thing."
Despite Jason's even and reasonable reply, Kimberly still cleared her throat and pressed her face against the cold, steel cage. "Hello?" she spoke up, watching as the five cloned rangers remained in their trance. "Can you talk? We're here to help you, we can help you-."
Her words were cut off and she let out a yelp, as the red clone suddenly lurched and then bucked, flinging itself against the cage's walls. She scampered to standing along with the others, watching with hopeless intrigue.
Kimberly looked around at her teammates. "Do you think we can let them out?" she asked.
"Honestly, Kim, I think we should just leave them be," Rocky said.
Katherine looked over at him with conflicting eyes. "But we can't just leave them here," she argued sadly.
Surprising Kimberly, Billy spoke the next words "We can't take any of them with us. It's too much of a risk."
Aisha let out a slight scoff. "A risk of what? The country deserves to know what the IBI has been doing...freeing these people and showing the government might be the only way Jason and Kimberly can possibly avoid being arrested for shooting those agents. It would be immoral to leave them here."
Tommy sighed, taking a step forward. "I understand what you guys are saying, but we can't look at them as being people," he said calmly. He sighed. "They're nothing but the unfortunate result of this- there's no life for them."
Kimberly held his gaze and tried to offer some sort of comforting reassurance, as Aisha and Katherine both looked down.
"What do we do about the ones that can talk?" Adam quietly reminded them.
Kimberly could see Tommy's face strain as Adam continued in a most uncomfortable tone, "Do we leave them behind, too?"
Tommy sighed again, this time loudly as he rolled his shoulders and looked at Billy. He flicked his hands and went to speak, but seemed to give up.
Jason patted him on the back, which appeared to do little to ease Tommy. "Guys, I know it's hard, but the important thing right now is for us to get out of here and to do this the right way- there's legions of mutants who might have broken through the outside barrier and if they reach Angel Grove, then things are gonna get a whole lot worse. Let's secure this obstacle, and then we'll work out who we can trust...we can't- we can't afford to trust anyone. There's still too much we don't know..."
"What was that?" Tommy suddenly asked up, his head flicking behind them.
Kimberly could feel herself holding her breath. Damn it, she didn't think her body could handle any more nasty surprises.
"What was what?"
"I can hear something," he confirmed, before he turned around and slowly stalked across the wide hall. The rest of them watched as he took a few steps and then stopped; and then he took another. "I can definitely hear something," he said again.
Jason brushed past Kimberly. "What do you think you can hear?" he asked, as he followed him.
Tommy stopped suddenly again. "I can hear someone talking," he murmured.
Rocky perked up. "I can hear it, too," he agreed. "I think it's coming from over-."
Bang! Bang! Bang!
Kimberly shrieked, and they all spun around. Rocky started for the banging and they all chased after him, pulling up short as a raspy voice suddenly sounded clear as day:
"I'm in here! Please!"
Kimberly frowned, as Tommy dodged in front of Rocky and put his ear up to a windowless door.
"Who's in there?" Tommy asked.
There was no reply at first, and they all exchanged dubious looks.
"Are you there, can you hear me?" Tommy asked again.
"Yes, I'm in here! My name is Agent Robert Johns..."