Chapter 25: The Color Red
It had been a long drive back to the IBI facility.
He was driving faster than he should have been, but somehow felt satisfied that the usual police presence was safely tucked away in the city and surrounding suburbs. No one really drove that way, anyhow. It was a road that led to nowhere, a route followed only by perhaps the odd camping party or keen hiker.
Agent Johns turned down the volume of the radio as the news continued on and on like a broken record. Thank God he was smart and took the back roads out of town- It probably added an extra half an hour to his trip, but he would have been royally screwed if he'd tried to get across the city with the other five thousand cars trying to flee Angel Grove at the same time.
It was hard to believe it was all coming to an end, at least this part of it any way. Maybe in some strange way this whole situation was for the ultimate good of the project- maybe by eliminating so much of their mess guaranteed a stabilized longevity for what they'd been working so tirelessly for. The place was nothing more than a graveyard nowadays…the hallways reeked with constant attempts to hide evidence of slaughtered mistakes and there was only so long you could keep covering the same mess up.
It was easier to start afresh. Rip the facility apart from its very core; eradicate every stain, every reminder and every lingering question. Take care of it quickly. Kill the birds with one hell of a stone, but with caution. Care. There were only two of him left now; that much he guessed was true.
He slowed as he turned into the main arterial to the facility that winded through a camouflage of thick brush and trees. Their overhanging canopies darkened the route and he flicked on the lights of his car, steadying the vehicle as it lumbered over two motionless putty clones lying sprawled in its path. In the distance, he could see a substantially sized tear in the institution's boundary fence and it left nothing to the imagination on just how all the mutants had found their way out to freedom. What a useless idea that was, having a fence that couldn't contain what they were trying to keep in...
A large shadow suddenly flew over the car's bonnet, disappearing just as quickly over the top of him. Johns swung the driver's side door open and stumbled out of the car, the color draining from his face as he watched the magnificent form vanish into the distance.
"Fuck!" Johns snapped, slamming his palm angrily against the bonnet of his car.
How did they find it? How on earth did they find it?
He stumbled backward, colliding with the car as his mind raced and tried to catch up to the moment. He had to stop this. They were going to ruin everything now!
It was time to get rid of their power, the core of their project. It was his only option.
Moving for the trunk of his car, Johns opened it up and pulled out the fire torch his clone had left there for him. Clenching his hand tightly around it, he slammed the trunk closed and began for the facility on foot.
"I know it's probably too late to be asking you this, seeing as though we're in the air and all; but are you sure you know what you're doing?"
Billy's eyes stayed focused, his head remaining stiff. "I'll admit I'm familiar with this intimately on paper, Rocky, but even I never imagined I would be flying my own creation," he shared.
Rocky remained crouched beside the central chair in the zord's open cockpit, watching with utter astonishment as Billy seemed to expertly navigate the mysterious flying zord through the sky en route for Angel Grove city.
By Billy's account, this was most likely to be the craft's maiden voyage; it was complete on the outside, but inside even Rocky could tell they still had the finishing touches to add, so to speak. The cockpit itself only had three chairs and that meant Katherine, Aisha and himself had been downgraded to kneeling on the floor behind their more combat-ready friends.
It made him feel useless.
Tommy and Adam were frequently going on about what they were hearing or seeing as part of the intrinsic sensor panels in their ranger uniforms- everything from air quality, to heat gages and target sensors. It seemed to confuse both of the men to no end, but it probably just took a lot to get used to, having all those figures and flashing lights blinking about in the visor of your helmet.
Then an alarm started whining. And then another one and then another one; then another one with a slightly duller tone.
"What's going on?" Rocky asked, looking to Billy.
Billy kept one hand plastered to the steering wheel as he used his free hand to attend to a board of blinking lights. "To be honest, I have no idea," he admitted.
Rocky kept quiet. He had visions of them all crashing to their deaths which would royally piss him off after coming through so much.
"The target sensors in my helmet are starting to flash," Adam alerted them. "The dots on the grid are accumulating at an accelerated pace."
"It must be because we're getting closer to the city," Tommy suggested. "Billy, from the grid it seems the majority of our targets are located down south in the business district, out west of the city and in the center of town...do you think you can guide us down south?"
Billy nodded. "I'll head there now," he confirmed.
Aisha crawled a little and rested beside Rocky. "How are we going to be able to navigate through the business district in this thing? Most of the roads and buildings there are so narrowly placed," she pointed out.
Rocky could have sworn Billy grinned a little. "Just as the suits Tommy and Adam are wearing are created from nanotechnology, this zord itself was constructed on the very same basis- strong, yet notably flexible. Although it may be a matter of me calculating the distances we have to work with, I should be able to instruct the zord to physically modify its contour to adhere to even the narrowest of streets."
"Wow," Rocky mouthed, looking at Aisha.
"All right guys, time to brace ourselves- I'm detecting a cluster of targets up ahead," Tommy announced.
"Tommy, you need to lock those canon lasers on the mutants when we approach a reasonable distance," Billy directed. "Rocky, Aisha and Kat; you guys need to remain low and tight, I'm predicting severe cabin movement from our attacks, given that the canons are sitting diametrically beneath the cockpit."
Rocky looked at each of his female teammates, and slowly crawled back a distance, gesturing with both of his hands for them to follow.
"How do I make sure I don't wipe out an entire neighborhood with this thing?" Rocky heard Tommy ask Billy wearily.
Billy didn't respond straight away. "Hopefully they built this to every specification I intended," was all he replied, as the zord dipped and swooped toward the ground.
Kimberly's breathless words brushed over Jason's ears, replaying over and over within his dazed and distorted conscious.
We're going to die here...we're going to die here alone...
It was really beyond Jason's state to focus on Kimberly. Her words were these pained scatterings that drifted from a tiny form before him. The infirmary; the walls, ceiling, all that was in it were awash in a wonderful darkness. He tried looking to the right and then to the left, but the daze just followed.
His head hurt. He thought it did. It must have hurt.
He was so far out of it. He didn't know whether he was sitting up, lying down, or dead for that matter.
Kimberly was crying very hard now. Her words were severely slurred, her pitch rising and then breaking away before he couldn't understand her at all. He wanted her to stop! Why was she crying? Why didn't she just lie down beside him and...
"I need you," he heard her plea; felt her jiggle his hands. "I can't do this alone!"
Jason felt his head roll against his shoulder and he pried his eyelids open. No wonder he wasn't able to see anything; he had his eyes closed for God's sake.
Had he been dreaming?
Kimberly's hands cupped his face, her skin burning him with cold.
"I'm okay," he murmured aimlessly. "I'm fine."
He steadied his eyes on her and tried to smile, but she just looked back at him with so much horror in her eyes that his attempt didn't last very long.
"I thought you were dead," she finally whispered to him, before releasing a long, extended breath. "Don't you do that again."
For what it was worth he nodded. Kimberly was trying to help him up, but was failing convincingly.
"Kim, we're going to be fine," he managed, gently removing her hands from under his arms. He rested his head against the wall behind him. "I just got a major bruise on the noggin and once the others fix the electricity we'll be out of here-."
"I'm not talking about that," she cut him off. She leaned forward and gently brushed her hand under his nose, before moving it before his eyes and displaying a thick streak of crimson blood across the side of her hand.
"Can't you see what's happening? You're bleeding, Jason, just like Zack-."
She stopped short as Jason felt his throat constrict and he coughed out in a drawn, strangled manner. Sucking in air, he squeezed at his throat with his hand, before looking back at her. "That didn't happen, Kim, you know that was a cover-up. Zack was murdered, you said it yourself," he paused, clearing his throat. "Don't do this to yourself, now."
She didn't reply straight away. "You didn't see him," she finally said so softly; in a voice that wasn't hers. "They had shot him, but there was blood all over him..." her voice quivered. "It didn't look right, Jase...the blood was so dark and his skin...it was so...it looked wrong, and it..." she lowered her face into her hands. "There was nothing normal or human about what I saw."
Jason felt paralyzed and Kimberly's frenzied inconsolability was terrifying the hell out of him.
"I just need you to listen to me-."
"I am listening," he assured her, fighting a spell of giddiness that rolled over him. "But now you need to listen to me, okay? I'm as torn up about Zack as you are and I know how bad you're hurting right now, but what you saw down in that morgue was the remains of someone who had been severely disfigured in a terrible homicide...Kim, this place was full of murderers...look at us, we're fine, we're not dying."
"There's nothing fine about your state right now, Jason!" Kimberly snapped, catching him off guard with the pure vigor in her words. "You've been getting worse and worse since they brought us here and now you're passing out on me for longer periods at a time and bleeding everywhere...you're bleeding red blood, Jase; red..."
"Kim; help me sit up," he murmured, feeling as though his concentration on her was starting to falter again.
He could feel her arms link heavily under his arms; hear her groaning and moaning brush against his ear in effort as she jerked heavily on his body. As she slipped her hands away and pressed against his shoulders, the room around him leveled out and he realized he must have been lying down the whole time before then.
He gazed around the infirmary, only then realizing the absolute destruction that surrounded them- metal, wood, sheets, so much mess just strewn around the small room. It was almost too transformed to recognize.
Where were the beds that were in there?
His eyes caught onto Kimberly, squinting heavily as he noticed the fear sweltering from her forehead and wavering out through her bottom lip.
Kimberly licked her lips, whispering under her breath.
"She didn't make it," Kimberly locked her eyes on his. "She didn't make it."
"What do you mean she didn't make it?"
Her eyes began to wander, her face twisting and falling and he felt his insides slide with her movement.
Jason felt choked. No, it couldn't be true, it couldn't be-.
"I don't know why," Kimberly's voice cracked, jumping all over the place. "She doesn't look hurt, but she's gone, Jason, she's dead, she's dead," her sentence blurred into sobs and she collapsed against his chest, heaving uncontrollably.
Jason didn't move, as he felt his emotions reach breaking point.
Tommy could only watch as the zord approached the desired south-city avenue at a speed that was faster than comfortable and of which gave the impression that it would never have the time to downsize in order to accommodate the narrow alleyway.
His breathing was lurid in his helmet. He almost closed his eyes, despite Billy remaining so God-damned composed beside him.
As the seconds ticked down, the zord immediately launched into what Billy had dubbed its "morphing mode" and it was a sight beyond belief, something completely out of the world they were fighting to protect. The walls around them literally folded into themselves, moving like the sound of bones being crushed and completed just in time as the zord went flying in between two multi-story buildings.
Rocky cursed uncontrollably, Katherine and Aisha both emitting a gasp at just how close they'd come.
Tommy could barely steady his hands back on the steering wheel, before Billy commenced again with his intelligible directions.
"Tommy, lock your lasers," he instructed. "I'll lower the power emission to accommodate the densely residing architecture."
Tommy was getting the hang of it now. Everything was so automated that he only had to nudge the cannon's laser guide in the general vicinity of the mutants and the zord would lock on, precisely wiping them away with a shower of ammunition.
"Tommy, hold back!" Adam suddenly stammered from Billy's other side. "There's people down there- hiding behind that car on the side of the road."
Billy immediately slowed the zord's approach.
So they knew how to kill the bastards, but how could they do it without wiping out the city with them? Already they'd managed to blow away fifty-sixty of them, but only God knew how many innocent civilians they'd taken out at the very same time.
Tommy had never contemplated about such implications until now. All those times that Zedd or Rita had forced them into zord battles so close to the city it had of course been a major consideration, but they'd never been near enough to the ground to actually see people- to be close enough to witness their fearful expressions and the doom reflected in their wide eyes.
"We can't pull back." Tommy closed his eyes. "We pull back, and those things will kill those people without any hesitation..."
"I don't want responsibility for killing them," Adam said, clearly surprising everyone with his defiant tone.
Tommy just stared at his armored friend, momentarily taken off guard; unprepared for his accusation. He was going to say something, something most likely biting, hurtful but he bit his tongue, instead grabbing the leaver before him and deliberately moving the laser off target.
"What are you doing?" Billy asked him.
"Taking care of this now," was all he replied, as he sent a deluge of bullets further up the desolate road, sending the frightened citizens and mob of mutants into a frenzy.
Tommy held his breath as the people used the gunfire as an opportunity to flee for cover and he didn't wait another moment before he swiftly repositioned the laser and sent a fiery display on target for the cloned putties.
Problem solved and taken care of. No one said anything for a minute or so and well, Tommy was just grateful he had a helmet on to cover his face.
"That was a good move, Tommy..." Adam's voice dwindled away as Billy steadied the zord forward.
Tommy felt stony, probably more sensitive than he need be and more paranoid with the ones that didn't deserve it. For once he'd love to be the one who didn't have to make all the fucking decisions, the whole ethic on teamwork and blah-blah-blah was nothing short of a whole crock of shit-.
"I wasn't questioning your authority, Tommy," Adam offered, all too knowingly.
"It doesn't matter," Tommy told him, before he sighed at his own subconscious effort at torturing his close friend emotionally. "Let's just keep going, my sensors are directing my attention to a block south of town square."
"I'm heading there now," Billy confirmed swiftly.
Tommy took a moment to lower his visor somewhat, stroking it with his fingers in personal contemplation. Zordon's almost menacing, yet muffled voice was still filtering about his helmet, distracting the living hell out of him. It was starting to blur in and out, his identically spoken phrase slowly falling away to nothing.
He wanted it to just stop!
"Billy, the inbuilt voice guidance system seems to malfunctioning," Adam stated out loud.
"In what way?"
"It's fading out...I can barely hear it anymore," the black ranger explained.
Tommy listened to the voice in his head carefully. What if what he was hearing wasn't real? What if he was making it up because he wanted it so bad?
"Zordon's changing his words," Tommy stressed in a whisper. "I can hear him; listen to him closely, Adam."
...under threat...time is...out...if...don't respond...end of all...rangers you must hear me...
Adam flinched obviously.
"What is he saying?" Aisha asked. "I thought you said it was probably a recording?"
"It can't be a recording, the word's he's speaking are too," Tommy couldn't describe it. "He's cutting out, but he's talking about something being under threat and that we need to help or else it will be the end of everything-."
Tommy swallowed sharply, clutching the cockpit's dashboard as he tried to ascertain how he heard Zordon say his name.
"Did he just speak to me?" Tommy croaked out, blocking out the questions swelling from his confused teammates.
"Tommy, you and the other rangers must stop this carnage before it is too late."
Tommy was almost overwhelmed by emotion. "Zordon, where are you? We tried to find you and so much- I don't know how much you know."
"Tommy, I need...the others are...extreme danger..."
Tommy clenched his helmet. "I can't hear you, Zordon, you're breaking up!" he pleaded.
His words died.
"Damn it!" Tommy seethed, before he quickly toned down. "He's gone again!"
"Did he tell you where they hell they're keeping him?" Rocky pressured.
Tommy shook his lowered head. "He cut out- I don't know where he is."
The zord jerked roughly, breaking the conversation up momentarily.
"We have to stay focused," Tommy grabbed hold of the leavers before him. "There is too much and too many people depending on us- Adam, please focus on the target grid and alert me to the hot spots; Billy, stay on path; Rocky, Kat and Aisha, I need you all to be our eyes for the things we can't look out for- people, anyone in danger."
Rocky knelt down beside him. "Can do, Tommy."
Tommy didn't say anything further, not as Billy navigated them back toward the center of town and not as he felt Katherine and Rocky's eyes linger for his attention, desiring his confirmation that everything was okay. But nothing was okay, so how could they expect him to lie about it? Should he take the role he'd always gratified in the past, where he'd clenched his fists and rambled off some clichéd lines about how no matter what, they would be victorious.
Just completely ignore all the facts?
The fact that the more they whisked through the streets of their beloved city it became clearer that everything they'd ever fought for had been completely undone? The fact that people had died because of them? The fact that Zordon was probably dying somewhere, just as Alpha had? Just as Zack had? Just as Trini was following the same, broken path? The fact that Kimberly and Jason were both depending on him again? The fact that even if somehow they dug themselves out of the big, black hole that had consumed their lives forever, nothing would ever be right again? Lives would remain shattered, reputations ruined, accusations stuck.
The fact that he would always be forced to make the decisions he didn't want to make and right at that moment, didn't want to consider. What was more important? Them or the world? Without them, the world would be defenseless, yet with them it was forever in danger.
He didn't believe in anything anymore, and yet he prayed now. He prayed for them all.