Chapter 23: Hearing Voices
Jason was struggling to keep up with Kimberly, as they pushed their bare feet through the chilled water in what he knew of as the main underground tunnel. Every once in a while he considered stopping, even just to momentarily catch his breath, but he could sense Kimberly's own wavering strength and knew it wouldn't be long before a rest period would be forced upon them both.
They passed through a period of almost complete darkness, before a wash of yellow light shone the ghastly path for them once more. The changes in light and the slow, gradual slant of the tunnel's cocoon were starting to make Jason dizzy and he was too slow to respond as he watched Kimberly drop like a stone to the ground.
She cried out, limbs sprawled and Jason quickened to her side, carefully dropping down beside her.
"You okay?" he asked her, as he tried to reach under her arms and lift her up.
She nodded weakly, but motioned to him to stop as she settled into a seated position.
"This tunnel feels like it's going on forever," she murmured disheartedly. She ran a hand over her face. "I'm feeling really sick, Jase."
He swallowed heavily, trying his best to shield his weary eyes from her view. "It's gonna be okay, Kim," he told her, rubbing her shoulder. "As soon as we find the hatch door to upstairs, I'll find you some water."
Kimberly nodded her head weakly, before her whole body abruptly spasmed and hunched over, her body rocking. Jason straightened himself up and grabbed her hair, rubbing her back with his free hand while she struggled to control her body's attempt to empty her famished stomach.
"Kim, you need to-." he stopped, rubbing her back harder as she stared to cough uncontrollably. "Kim, take a deep breath, come on; just breathe."
But her coughing fit deepened, and her body became limp. Jason cursed and awkwardly jerked her back up, shaking her slightly until she began to wheeze and her eyes rested groggily on him.
"Shhh..." he scooped some of the dirty water from the ground and ran it over her forehead; her cheeks. "Just breathe..."
Her lips parted slightly with sharp but soft breaths loud enough for Jason to hear.
"I'm sorry," she breathed.
He sighed, and took her into his arms for a brief moment, before he pulled back and studied her carefully.
"You okay, now?"
She nodded. He could see the dim light glistening off the tears in her eyes. "Jason, I'm really scared," she shared weakly. "I've never felt this way before."
Jason could feel his own stomach twist with Kimberly's admission. They were both past starving, dehydrated and sleep deprived. What he was seeing in Kimberly's eyes and hearing in her voice was what he felt was transpiring within him, but he was honestly so doubtful in his own mind's credibility that he swore they were both hallucinating.
She tried to smile and it broke his heart.
"I don't want to die down here," she told him.
He shook his head, and grabbed her shoulders. "Nobody else is dying for this, okay? We have come too far...we can do this together, I won't leave you again, okay? But we need to try and find the infirmary and reach Trini," he paused, his heart sinking a little as her eyes seemed so distant. "Okay?" he pushed her again.
She finally nodded and extended her hands, before they helped each other up, leveraging their weights in different directions until they stumbled to standing. Kimberly continued to cling to his body until she let out a soft, controlled breath.
"I'm glad we had this break," she murmured looking up at him. Her eyes faltered slightly however and she stepped back, reaching up with her hand for his face.
"What?" he asked her.
"Your eyes," she whispered. "They look really blood shot..."
Jason shook his head gently free. "I'm just tired," he assured her. "I'll be fine-." the words caught in his throat and he turned his head around to spit the dry, metallic tasting saliva from his mouth.
Kimberly followed his movements, not leaving him. "Jase, you're bleeding from the mouth," she observed. "You don't look well at all."
He rubbed the bloodied saliva from his lip and rested his hand on her shoulder, out of support for her and support for himself. "I got hit real hard back there, that's all...one of the Goldar clones got me right in the stomach," he explained.
Kimberly's gaze quivered. "Are you sure?" she asked him her expression struggling to fend of her doubt.
He nodded. "I'm sure...come on, let's take our time and see if we can find this hatch door, it must be somewhere near here."
He motioned with an extended hand and they both began taking tentative steps forward. Jason felt as though the wet ground beneath him was slowly sloping, as though he had been caught in a strange vortex in slow motion. Was he swaying?
"Have you thought about what we are going to do when we get out of here?" Kimberly's voice caught his drifting attention. "They think you and I murdered those government officials and those police officers."
Jason honestly couldn't think that far ahead. He was sinking; he was struggling to be the strong one here and all he could conjure up was a reply of "I don't know, Kim...but for now, let's just find Trini and we'll sort all of that out then."
"Guys; let's try up this one."
Adam turned around mid-step and spotted Tommy through the shadows, resting against another tight, circular exit from what felt like the twentieth tunnel they had wondered through on search for an exit above ground.
"Don't you think we should continue through to the very end of this one first?" Aisha questioned.
"I think I can see some light at the end of this one," Tommy explained. "Come on; let's check it out."
Adam sighed privately and guided Aisha in front of him with an extended arm, following the rest of the group as they squeezed into the new tunnel one at a time. The cold concrete was slick with the same moisture found in the large tunnel behind them, and Adam struggled to grip the bottom of it with his feet.
"Whoa!" Aisha let out, as she awkwardly slipped in front of him, falling clumsily against the tunnels walls.
"Are you guys okay back there?" Tommy called back to them.
Adam carefully dropped down on all fours and attended to his fallen friend who seemed to scowl under her breath.
"You didn't hurt yourself, did you?" he asked her.
She shook her head. "No..." she winced, and he helped her move to a more comfortable position.
"The condensation is making the tunnel's surface unbearably slippery," Billy told them from in front of Aisha. "You might find it easier to move on your hands and knees."
Adam waited patiently for Aisha to start moving forward, before he gingerly started after her. He had never considered himself to be claustrophobic, but the thick smell and stifling air around him would have become too much had the growing circle of light ahead not enticed him to continue. He could see the others reach the end up ahead and he prayed with everything inside of him that they had found a way out.
As Aisha reached the end of the tunnel, Adam noticed it dropped out into a large passage way and he waited while Billy helped her out before he slipped out after her.
The light stung his eyes.
"Guys! Up here!"
Adam jerked his head abruptly and grabbed onto Aisha, pulling her along as they began up the wide, brightly lit corridor. They slowed as they reached the others bunched at the end in front of a door, but Adam's spirits immediately plummeted as Tommy turned around to face them.
"It's locked," he admitted despondently.
Rocky sighed, pursing his lips. "Great; another dead end."
"How much time do we have before the facility goes into lock down mode?" Katherine asked, looking at Billy.
"Uh, about enough time to kiss our asses goodbye I imagine," Rocky commented, clearly frustrated.
"Let me take a look at it," Billy suggested, as he pushed passed Rocky and Katherine and stopped in front of a strange keypad built into the wall beside the door.
No locks; no keys. The door was locked all right; you just needed to know the combination to get inside.
Adam slumped against the wall as he listened to Billy's random prodding of the numbers chirp incessantly, echoing and bouncing around the hall. The light was strangely disturbing to Adam. The clarity of his teammates' deteriorating health was so strong. Everyone was wet; limbs were shaking and covered in scrapes, clothing torn, hair disheveled and heads and torsos held on awkward angles.
The others probably hadn't given it much thought, but all of Adam's training told him that they were pushing barriers exceeding the norm. At the very least, they needed to secure fresh water. It seemed like a rather trivial thing, but Adam hadn't even needed to urinate for what felt like a couple of days. And how many days had it been since any of them had actually slept? What if delusions were already setting behind their skulls and they didn't even know it? How long could they push on, before someone dropped to the ground and actually couldn't take another step?
His stomach seemed to scream with his reflections and he couldn't hold his head straight any longer, his eyes falling solemnly to the ground. He stared at the water that still sat his feet and unconsciously rolled his tongue in mouth, but it just stuck to the dry, burning walls of his mouth. He was only seconds away from crouching to the dirty water and running his tongue along the floor for some kind of disgusted relief.
"Are you hurt?" Aisha asked and Adam watched as she settled her soaking form against the wall beside him.
He shook his head. "I was just thinking," he admitted, keeping his voice at a whisper. "I'm worried about how far we can push on before someone breaks."
Aisha shuffled up against him, and it was only then that he noticed all the parched blood hiding under the mess of her bangs. At least it was the color of red, and while the skin of her face appeared dry, it still had Aisha's healthy olive color. Hopefully that meant that Adam didn't need to worry in the back of his mind about any so-called fatal effects from their powers- but with Jason and Kimberly separated from the group now, he also had lost any opportunity he had to keep a close observation on all of them.
There were still questions. The extent of the cloning project and it's ramifications on each of them was still so unclear.
Tommy cursed from beside Billy, knocking his fist slightly on the door in frustration.
"How many combinations have you tried?" Rocky asked Billy.
The blue ranger kept his back to the group. "I don't know," he admitted.
Adam was growing frustrated, not with his friends, but hell, he was tired. "There's too many combinations to possibly try, especially without following some kind of pattern of trial and error- maybe we shouldn't waste what time we have on a door that might just lead to another dead end."
"I agree with Adam," Aisha quickly followed him up with a dismal breath.
Tommy looked at them and slowly nodded. The defeat was written all over his face and they all felt it. Another blow. And now that they were all nestled together, feeling deludingly warm and safe in actual lighting, it was becoming increasingly clear that everyone had slowed down. Panic had been exchanged for frustration; urgency had been swapped over for hopelessness. How wonderful it would be if they could all just sit down, go to sleep and forget about everything...
"We really have to get moving," Rocky tried his best to sound encouraging. "Kim, Jason and Trini are counting on us, too."
"I can't move," Aisha admitted, and Adam watched as her beautiful face twisted and fell, wrinkling beneath a release of anguish.
"Where are you hurting?" Adam asked her, moving opposite her and lowering his face to her level.
She avoided him at first, sniffling loudly. "It's nothing...please, I just..." her lips moved terribly uncomfortably.
Adam reached for the bottom of her blouse and pulled loose one of the pearl-colored buttons. "Here," he moved it to her mouth, "As strange as it seems, sucking on this button will help stimulate your salivary glands..."
She frowned doubtfully, but was too weak to resist and he pushed it gently into her mouth, before looking over at the others. "You all might want to do the same...I can't begin to tell you how dangerous it is to go this long without anything to drink," he told them. "If we don't get any water within the next twelve hours or so, no one is going to be going anywhere."
He looked back at Aisha. "Are you going to be fine to walk?" he asked her.
She nodded and moved away from the wall. "I'll be okay...thanks."
"Let's go back to the main tunnel," Rocky suggested, as he walked past them and slowly started back down the hall.
Adam guided Aisha along and heard more footsteps start up behind him. He slowed somewhat and let Katherine pass, waiting for Billy to catch up to his side. No one was walking with particular urgency in their stride, but at least they were still moving. Everyone was quiet. There was no sound, except for their aloof steps crawling over the moist ground below-.
Tommy's sudden yell from behind startled them all; it was an outburst, not an exclamation of anything in particular and by the time Adam had managed to spin around, he realized their leader was still all the way down the hall near the door.
Adam had to blink over and over. Tommy's body was unnaturally stiff, strange light and what appeared to be robotic arms rushing down from the roof above him, but from the distance, Adam had no idea how.
Rocky pushed past him and began sprinting for the former white ranger, before Adam followed suit.
"Tommy!" Katherine called out from behind.
There you saw him, next he was gone - Adam came to a stop and could only watch in disbelief as from one second to the next Tommy's body seemingly morphed from rags to armor right before their very eyes.
Maybe it was a strange hallucinogen, or even worse, maybe he'd passed out without realizing it and was drifting off in some wondrous dreamland...a place where he felt his body become alive again, like he hadn't felt it for so long. Where the power dripped through his veins methodically, rhythmically; where he was unbreakable.
Maybe it wasn't the worst possible place to be. His body felt great. He felt alive! Maybe it was a lucid dream, because it felt too controlled, too real. There was no other explanation as to how he found himself back in a ranger uniform at this moment, the sounds of his teammates voices fluttering about nearby.
A voice spoke into his ear. His vision focused.
Tommy squinted his eyes behind the visor, noticing a face press up against it. "Tommy? What happened?"
Tommy scrambled his hands to the helmet enveloped around his head and he fumbled for the usual pair of clips, but he couldn't find them. Grunting loudly, he started to squirm, settling only as he felt another set of hands reach behind him and gently un-clip the helmet from his head.
Nope, he definitely was not dreaming.
"How did you morph like that?" Aisha gasped, eyes open unbelievably wide.
Billy moved beside Tommy and he spun around, watching as the former blue ranger scoured the ceiling with a careful eye. "It came out of the roof," he murmured to himself.
Katherine stepped up to Tommy, running a hand over his metallic-plated arm. "I don't understand, Billy, I thought you needed a power coin to morph?" she asked, looking up at Tommy.
Billy turned around, seemingly lost in an electric hypnosis. "This is unbelievable..." he looked at them all, before staring at Tommy and shaking his head. "If my suspicions are correct, than this uniform appears to be based almost entirely on nanotechology, like I've never even imagined possible..."
Rocky scrunched his face. "What does that mean?"
Billy paused, quickly inspecting Tommy's helmet. "Nanotechology is the science of developing materials- machines - at the atomic and molecular level in order to imbue them with special electrical and chemical properties...Tommy; tell me how you're feeling right now, in this suit-."
"I feel..." Tommy couldn't believe it, his brain wasn't keeping up now. "I feel unbelievable...strong- it's like, my whole body is rejuvenated as I stand here."
Billy smiled- actually smiled. "In the case of this manufactured armor, I believe that we are looking at this very technology in the form of extraordinarily tiny computers that are powerful beyond comprehension. I've studied all the basic fundamentals- apply these nano machines to building materials and you have a structure that can withstand earthquakes- build them into a ranger uniform and the possibilities are endless- increased muscular strength and the elimination of long term injuries, because repairs can be made from within the body."
"Are you saying that the government has been trying to create its own ranger technology?" Adam questioned.
Billy nodded, but then licked his lips, a strange glint suddenly flickering in his eyes. "I had been working on it myself...I believe my father was working on this...I-."
Tommy released a breath, managing to clasp Billy's shoulder in between his gloved hand.
"Do you think it's possible that the IBI found and used your research to build of this?" Katherine asked him.
Billy nodded. "I don't think it's a possibility, Katherine, I think it's a certainty- I found plans from my private work back in that run-down laboratory...this suit that Tommy's wearing- I designed it and its concept myself."
"I think it's amazing," Katherine released breathlessly. "The uniform is extraordinary...it's like nothing we've ever seen before."
Tommy looked down at himself. The skin over his cheeks felt tight- his muscles were spasming beneath the silky material encasing them. He could remember the feeling of his old ranger uniform; remember the way it felt like cloth inside. This uniform looked so hard and was molded so tightly around him that had Tommy been looking at himself from the outside, he would have wondered if one would even be able to move in it. But practicality wasn't even a consideration, it was simply to be granted.
"Here, put this back on," Billy extended the helmet back to him, and Tommy took it, pulling it back over his head.
Rocky or Adam said something, but Tommy didn't hear them. He was instead looking at his arm- just looking at it.
And he swore it God-damned moved on its own.
How can this be possible?
What was that monotone sound droning in his ears again?
Tommy shook his head heavily, surprising himself at how much his body swayed with such basic movement. It was then that he noticed his teammates were no longer focused on him, and were instead paying heavy attention to the ceiling and the door.
"I entered my identification code into the keypad," Tommy suddenly admitted, as he watched Billy crouch nearby. "The code on my head...then something came over me and all of a sudden I was morphed."
"Adam, you should try it," Rocky coaxed his old friend.
Adam seemed to hesitate. "Okay...but you guys should move out of the way..."
Tommy stepped back and watched intensely as his room mate moved to enter his identification code into the mystery keypad. As he typed in the very last digit, the ceiling flew open above and robotic arms grabbed hold of him, slapping pieces of armor over his entire body with an unbelievable speed until suddenly, the chaotic happenings diminished abruptly.
And before them stood a modified black ranger like never before seen.
"Whoa..." Rocky slowly approached Adam, moving his hand to touch his uniform. "That was the most awesome shit I've ever seen."
"Your uniform is black, Adam," Aisha noted. "And Tommy's is white-."
"It's all been programmed," Billy cut her off, seemingly unintentionally.
Tommy stepped back, flinching awkwardly as he heard a strange buzz in his ears again.
"Did you just hear that?" Adam asked him.
"Yeah..." Tommy wasn't sure what it was.
"I think my helmet is speaking to me," Adam stated.
Rocky frowned. "What do you mean?"
Adam shuffled uncomfortably. "I don't know, it's like some kind of inbuilt guidance...I think it's telling me that we need to respond to a level one threat."
"Oh my gosh, look guys- the door is open," Aisha suddenly noticed, flinging out a hand.
Tommy spun around and couldn't believe it- the thick, seemingly unachievable hurdle was now resting ajar like an unbelievable savior. Adam moved for the door and Tommy let the others through first, but stopped suddenly as he heard the voice filter through his ears again.
This time it was clearer. Oh God.
"Wait-." Tommy grabbed his helmet in his gloved hand. "Adam, listen to the voice."
Adam turned around, half way through the door. "What's wrong?"
"I know who the voice is...It sounds like Zordon."