Chapter 24: Empowered
Kimberly gazed up at the dark metal plate above her. It was only maybe three-four feet above her head, but the longer she stared at it; the more she screamed at it- the further away freedom felt.
"Hello?" she called out. "Trini? Can somebody help us?"
Kimberly stood on her tiptoes. She could feel her muscles tighten and pull, but she grunted through it and and extended her arm as far as she could. She jumped once, twice, three times-.
She threw her arms down and angrily kicked the tunnel's wall, before she spun around in a near fluster.
"Jason," she huffed. "You are going to have to give me a boost..." she rested her hands on her hips and swallowed heavily, waiting for his response.
She sighed. "Jason?" she frowned slightly and stepped forward, her frown deepening as she realized how unnaturally his body was resting against the tunnel's wall.
Kimberly reached out with her hand and touched his arm, almost flinching as she felt the cold sweat dampen her finger tips.
"Jason, you're freezing," she told him, grabbing him by the shoulder. "Jason, what's wrong, why aren't you saying anything-."
She gasped as he suddenly hunched forward and grabbed onto his chest, using his free hand to clasp onto her shoulder for support.
"Jason?" she raised her voice in panic.
He began to murmur incoherently. Kimberly grabbed his face to steady his head, as a loud mechanical bang sounded in the distance, chiming like a death bell and echoing through the main tunnel.
"Oh God," Kimberly murmured with dread. "That's probably the escape doors locking down..."
She looked back at Jason, before light swiftly flooded in from above them, scaring Kimberly enough to make her scream out. A head dropped down from the opening above, his familiar face studying them both with a strange curiosity.
"Tom-." Kimberly stopped herself quickly, realizing immediately that it was nothing more than a clone. "Can you help us up?"
The clone remained motionless, as though it not only didn't comprehend her request, but it didn't even hear the sound of her voice.
Kimberly stretched her arms high above her head and looked up at the face she knew so well. "See my arms?" She shook them about a bit.
It tilted its head and Kimberly shook them again with more fervor, before it shuffled its body forward and seemed to effortlessly drop its lower body through the hole. Kimberly could only watch momentarily mesmerized, as the clone grasped her arms and lifted her body through the opening.
The light felt uncomfortable, but oh so good on Kimberly's face.
She shuffled around quickly and looked back down through the hole, relieved to find Jason standing straighter and meeting her eyes. Kimberly sighed and flinched a little as the clone crawled beside her. She shuffled out of the way and watched as the clone reached down to pull on Jason, overwhelming Kimberly once again with his display of brute strength.
The clone rested Jason's body on his back. Kimberly stared around the room that should have been familiar, and yet was now beyond even a sliver of recognition. Flashbacks battered behind her eyes as she remembered the circumstances in which they had fled the infirmary to escape down underground- the way they had been ambushed by mutant putties with nowhere to go.
Did they really cause all of this?
Kimberly looked down as she felt Jason's hand brush her own.
The light from above brought to light the consequences from the dark below. The whites of Jason's eyes were red, their pupils dilated so much so that there was barely a ring of brown around them; His skin was cold to touch, yet sweltered with a thick layer of sweat, and his face was contorted, twisted uncomfortably as though he wasn't even trying to hide his pain from her.
She'd never seen anything like it, not even during her years as a ranger. Did he even notice how much he was scaring the living shit out of her right now?
"Jason…what-." She stopped.
His head rolled over and he tried to look at her. "I don't know what's wrong," he croaked out miserably. Her stomach fell at the sound of his voice. "I've never felt this before."
Kimberly swallowed and rubbed her face, before she looked beside her, glancing at the clone of Tommy with a silent curiosity. Looking into those eyes, it was so unnerving. She could have sworn it was him.
"Do you uh, do you know if there are any blankets here?" she asked him, motioning quickly to Jason. "Something to keep him warm?"
Tommy's clone just stared at her, not showing a glimpse of a response. She sighed and offered him a slight smile despite herself, before looking back down on Jason.
Her hand rested ever so softly on his cheek. "I'll find something to keep you warm," she promised him.
It was too hard for her to search with any care. Every step she took, her bare feet would tense up as they brushed against jagged ends of broken metal, glass and God knows what else. She would wince and gasp, but then travel on knowing that the more she moved, the more she was cutting her feet up.
Kimberly slowed as she noticed what looked to be one of the ivory colored bed sheets sprawled messily, stuck beneath the weight of one of the collapsed infirmary beds. She knelt down and tugged on it, grunting with more stamina as it refused to pull free. She tugged again, and again, again and again before finally the dirtied material began to slip from its clasp.
With one last pull, the material flung out and floated to Kimberly's side. But she didn't notice, nor could she move, not when she realized what had been hiding beneath it. With both eyes wide, Kimberly could only stare at Trini's motionless body, a tear slipping down her cheek as she realized she was dead.
Katherine glanced around the circular shaped room, the dé ja vu so strong she could almost smell it. When she'd first cast eyes on the rangers' commanding headquarters all those years ago it had been a marvel she could have only previously imagined, yet right at this very moment she knew she was reliving that feeling all over again.
The room was open, the ceiling so high it hurt to focus on its distance and at ground level, a sleek bench ran the perimeter much like the circular control panel of their old Command Center. Lights flickered and hummed monotonously; switch panels and countless monitors flickered in time, while indistinguishable sounds filtered through some sort of speaker system.
Katherine released a breath she didn't realize she'd been holding. "What is this place?" she spoke out in wonder, stopping numbly beside Aisha.
Billy immediately began to walk the perimeter of the highly technological room, his movements sporadic as he rushed between computers, his hands skimming along the control panels as though his words could not verbalize his mind.
"Tommy, Adam?" Rocky looked over his shoulder exasperatedly. "You'll never believe what's in here."
Katherine looked over at the door they'd walked through, frowning slightly as she noticed Tommy and Adam still standing out in the passageway, deep in some sort of gestured discussion.
"Guys!" Rocky called out again. "Come on, what's wrong?"
Katherine watched as Tommy and Adam finally responded to Rocky's pestering and walked through the entryway, both of the heavily armored men coming to an identical pause.
Tommy rushed to remove his helmet, Adam quickly following suit.
"They've built some kind of command center," Katherine spoke out in astonishment. "But where's-."
"Zordon," Tommy cut her off, walking quickly past them toward the control panels. "He must be here somewhere."
Billy turned from the other side of the room, staring at Tommy with a strained lack of clarity. "Tommy, there's nothing that suggests Zordon is here."
"Tommy's right," Adam quickly announced, turning to face them all. "We recognize the voice in the inbuilt guidance system- it's Zordon."
"What?" Rocky blurted out, his face twisted up. "What did you say?"
"How is that even possible, he's not even here," Aisha reasoned.
"He's here somewhere," Tommy murmured, deeply distracted as he began to play with switches and controllers. "Billy, what are these systems controlling?"
The former blue ranger was still clearly distracted by Tommy and Adam's admission, but numbly found his way to the white ranger's side as they all huddled together.
"I think that this is the genuine central hub for the project," Billy slowly explained. "The laboratory we recovered earlier was perhaps where it all began, but was abandoned as they implemented technology found in the command center, work done by myself, my father and constructed this facility...their own command center."
"Commanding what?" Aisha asked.
Billy sighed and shrugged a little. "Their own ranger team, I guess...or what they hoped would one day become their own ranger team. Maybe in some inadvertent way they began to investigate the power rangers because the government wanted to learn more about us, the technology that we used which could benefit the military. But after the battle on Seréshis they had to cover their tracks...but even if they started the cloning project for supposedly noble reasons, it didn't prevent them from taking advantage of the situation."
Katherine listened to Billy's words carefully, surprised by how all the pieces fit, yet so many questions remained. Big questions, really big ones.
"But why would they need a ranger team if there's no villains to fight?" she asked.
"The government was probably trying to create some sort of covert assault team for their own purposes," Tommy suggested. "They saw how successful we were and they wanted that very same power in their own hands to use for whatever reasons they might have."
Aisha raised her eyebrows in disbelief. "This could be one of the biggest government conspiracies in the history of the United States," she shared with disbelief. "Who knows what kind of damage any government could do in warfare with technology like this."
Billy moved his attention to one of the control panels, his fingers rushing over the keyboard which looked much like one that you would see with a regular workstation.
The monitor flickered and whirled with his input, but the picture remained unstable. "These systems seem slightly affected by the facility being on back-up power, although the fact that all these lights and systems are still powered leads me to believe that this room is being charged by a different source."
Katherine flicked a look over at Tommy, sharing a private glance before he swallowed pronouncedly. "Do you think we can stop the facility from locking down from here?" he suddenly asked Billy, his eyes lighting up.
The blue ranger matched his expression, before succumbing to deep thought. "I can try...it's very possible that one of the machines may be involved in stabilizing the facility's power."
Tommy nodded, as Billy moved on to the next control panel. "If only we could find Zordon," he whispered loudly to himself.
Katherine's shoulders fell a little. "Are you really sure it's him?" she asked him in a quiet voice.
Tommy nodded numbly. "They must have him somewhere else, but all I know is that it's his voice...but he keeps on saying the same thing over and over again-."
"Guys," Billy spoke out, looking over his shoulder and gesturing with a hand. "I think there's something you should see."
They all hurried over to him, the reason for their required attention unmissable as they focused on the smallish screen inbuilt into the console.
It was Angel Grove; Katherine recognized some of the buildings from her few years living in the city. Of course being a ranger meant the streets of the Californian city became almost mapped in the back of her mind and there wasn't really a street there she couldn't name. But on the footage before them it was all being torn apart- putties and mutants were literally everywhere, engaged in gunfire with familiar uniformed officers.
"Please tell me this isn't happening," Aisha murmured breathlessly.
Tommy cursed without sound, his face darkening. "The mutants must have gotten out of the boundary fence," he stated the obvious. Another whispered curse. "They're destroying the city," he seethed.
"Well that explains where all the assholes went to," Rocky added. "They're now trying to fight and destroy the very things that they created."
Billy moved from the group with Tommy quickly in toe, as they scoured the large room. Katherine remained with her eyes glue to the footage, thoughts immediately turning to the city she'd once called home and to her parents who still happily resided there. A smile glistened in her mind amongst her showering fear; she quickly pictured the day the news had revealed that Zedd had fallen and that Angel Grove had been freed from its slavery to weekly alien attacks.
The city would have been so horribly unprepared for this attack now. It frightened everything in her to even picture it.
A loud 'whoosh' sounded from nearby and Katherine flinched, turning to watch as two large doors slid open wide, revealing a plateau of thick stairs leading out of the control room.
A way out.
Tommy disappeared up the stairs before anyone could say anything, and Katherine meekly followed trying not to cringe at the prospect of walking up stairs with such limited strength.
She could feel the air from outside wash over her in a beautiful fury, the sound of a real breeze rustling through her tangled hair as she let Adam practically pull her up the ascent.
Tommy called out to them, fueling their steps. "Guys! Quick, I've found some sort of zord!"
"What?" Aisha gasped out, as they began to take two steps at a time, practically tripping the remainder of the way up.
And there it was, waiting for them- the exit had brought to them something truly magnificent, its magnitude only highlighted as Katherine's eyes adjusted to the uncomfortable sky above.
It looked like an aircraft modified to the extreme- its outer shell wasn't like their old zords at all, but appeared to be made out of tiny specs of black metal, as though it were flexible. Wings ran closely up its outer edges, drawing into a tight nose where a curved, tinted windscreen sat and red lights blinked at random points.
"Billy, that looks exactly like the picture you drew, the one we found in the laboratory!" Rocky exclaimed, gesturing widely.
Billy looked as though he was going to pass out from the sheer shock. "They've built it exactly to plan," he shared, his eyes and body moving about. "To scale- the same proportions, the same," he stopped, overwhelmed.
Tommy walked toward him, clutching his ranger helmet tightly under his arm. "Billy, what do you think our chances are of flying this thing out of here?" he asked him.
Katherine and Aisha looked at their ranger leader in disbelief, but Billy was anything but hesitant. "If they've completed it, then this could be our only hope of stopping the mutants from destroying the city," he enthused with determination.
"But wait- we're not morphed," Aisha hurried out, as Tommy started for the large robotic craft. "And what about Kim, Jason and Trini?" she reminded him.
Tommy turned around, waiting for them all to reach him. "We have to try this, if we don't we're seriously outnumbered against those mutants...we all know that we can't risk being in the city on foot with all of those IBI agents swarming around, we could become a bigger target than the putties...We're outside now- we'll deal with the mutants, and then we'll come straight back for the others. They'll be strong and hopefully, they should be safe."
Katherine believed Tommy's words, because he could tell how hard they were for him to speak. It wasn't a stretch to see the comparisons between this wretched time and the time of the final battle- where Tommy was forced to choose between them and the world. Did she believe he'd made the wrong choice back then? She still didn't know. But she was certain he was making the right choice now.
"Let's do it," Rocky agreed, slapping Tommy on the shoulder.
Oh God, Trini…how can you be?…it can't be, it can't be…
Kimberly released a labored breath, a smooth run of tears skipping off her cheekbone and falling onto the motionless hand that lay inches from hers. Like a worthless piece of rubble, Trini's lifeless body lay sprawled before her, the sight enough to bring the bile back up her already burning throat.
She scampered quickly on all fours, but got only a short distance before her head lurched forward and she felt her empty stomach heave with force. The pressure seemed to ripple, hunching her over again and again, almost causing her to choke. The movement sent an unbearable sensation of pain through her, and her eyes welled even more from it, as she dully crawled back to where she'd left her friend.
What if it's one of them?
It suddenly flashed in her mind and for a brief, seductive moment Kimberly suddenly considered the possibility that it wasn't the real Trini Kwan, but some manufactured version of her. She violently shoveled the scattered linen to the side, before her shoulders slumped with all the realization that could exist at that moment.
The body was dressed in Trini's clothes. They were in the room they'd left Trini in.
To die. How could they have been so thoughtless as to leave one of them behind like that?
Kimberly inhaled and squeezed her eyes closed, before she felt a cold hand gently brush the nape of her neck. As though in too much of a daze to react or too numb to care, Kimberly didn't respond and instead almost prayed that it was someone to put her out of her misery.
The hand was too soft though, and it awkwardly dropped away as his figure slumped down beside her.
Kimberly clenched her shaking jaw and looked at the clone with sad eyes. "What happened here?" she asked it, despite knowing that it couldn't respond. "Who did this?"
The clone of Tommy just stared blankly at her, his expression unwavering as Kimberly looked back at Trini and gently stroked the bangs from her face. Her skin was unnervingly flushed like a light was being shone from beneath its surface- but worst of all, her eyes were still slightly open.
Kimberly could barely breathe. She couldn't. It was too much, too much.
Why? WHY? WHY? WHY!
Why did Trini die? Why was her skin yellow? Why did they do this to them? Why?
Kimberly sobbed, her face landing somewhere in her hands. Her name trickled past her ears, calling for her but she didn't raise her chin, instead dragging her body over the uneven floor to his side.
She couldn't hide her tears from him.
"Kim...what's wrong?" Jason asked.
Kimberly sobbed loudly. "We're going to die here," she whispered miserably. "We're going to die here alone..."