Chapter 29: The Choice
405 Freeway, Angel Grove, USA
Farkas kept squeezing the steering wheel in between his hands, the sweat leaking from his palms to the point of where it felt like he was molding the hard plastic and changing its shape. It was the middle of winter, and yet it felt like the middle of July- all he wanted to do was wind down the windows of their messed-up police car, but the vehicle's shell was the only thing keeping the suffocating smoke from outside at bay.
"How long has it been since we've moved?"
Farkas shuffled uncomfortably in the driver's seat, casting a jagged gaze his way. "We should've gone back to the station first," he mumbled to Eugene, stopping as the car behind them blew their horn suddenly. For no apparent reason.
Traffic was at a standstill on the 405. Hundreds of cars sat before them, potentially another couple of hundred behind. Then, to make the situation worse, people had quickly found their stupidity and had commenced the abandonment of their vehicles for the prospect of trying their luck at running away from Angel Grove.
And now there were so many people in the cracks that nobody or nothing could move. It was pure, utter madness.
Farkas shifted his eyes back to the rear view mirror, watching the two backseat passengers return his stare with their glassy haze. The shotgun still rested on Jason's lap as though to serve as a poignant reminder that something was seriously, seriously wrong. Kimberly was conscious, despite her injuries but she didn't seem 'awake'. She still had not said a word since they'd hit her in the alleyway.
Jason kept going to speak but nothing came out. Eugene remained evidently nervous in the passenger seat as though believing Jason was only moments away from picking up his deadly weapon and blowing both their heads off. Strangely enough, Farkas didn't think Jason or Kimberly meant them any harm. If Jason had wanted to kill them, he certainly wouldn't have let Farkas drive the car, for one thing.
Eugene's eyes crept over to Farkas once again, and the larger man shook his head. He twisted around and looked directly at Jason. "Is Kimberly okay?" he asked him, holding back on the temptation to reach out and even brush her leg.
Jason didn't even blink, his head hung slightly to the side. One of his hands moved over to the other as he began to absentmindedly scratch at the already tender skin of his wrist. Farkas couldn't help but grimace somewhat at the sight of all the sores and needle marks that were trampled randomly over the other man's arms.
"What happened to you both?" Farkas whispered more to himself.
Jason looked like he didn't hear, before he ran a hand to his face. "The power..."
"What does that mean?" Farkas asked him, his forehead creasing. "What's the power?"
Jason leaned forward slightly, forcing Farkas back a little as his eyes flashed with an argent glow.
"Don't let them find us," Jason spoke out evenly. "Don't let them."
Eugene turned around in his seat, sharing a quick look with Farkas.
"Who don't you want to find you?"
"Don't let them get the power," Jason responded, his eyes flashing again; for longer this time.
It should have been so completely mind-blowing to watch a set of human eyes glow in such an unearthly way, and yet to Farkas it stirred a strange familiarity; transported him back to times that he could vividly recall from his recent childhood.
Could it even be possible?
Farkas licked his lips. "This power you're talking about...do you guys have something to do with all these creatures running around the streets?" his mind flashed back five, six years earlier. "Do you guys have something to do with the power rangers?"
As though to confirm an answer, a painful, almost gasp-like noise sounded from Jason. Eugene grabbed onto Farkas' arm, the two officers disbelieving what they were seeing.
The power rangers were under their noses all along.
Farkas swallowed heavily and began to almost whisper, as though afraid that people could hear them. "Did you get injured?" his words slurred, and then raced up, a million thoughts accelerating through his mind. "We heard reports of some sort of fighting robot ship, on the radio...Who are you hiding from?"
Jason's eyes widened and his body jolted roughly, the gun slipping off his lap. Farkas courageously yanked it away and flicked his head around as a loud tapping sounded on his window. The visitor bent down and peered through the glass, his body draped in a sleek, black suit.
Who the hell is this?
Winding down the window, Farkas was forced to clear his throat several times as smoke and incessant noise flooded into the cabin of their car. "Can we help you, sir?"
The mystery man flicked open his wallet, flashing his identification. "We lost sight of your vehicle over an hour ago," the man explained. "We have a helicopter stationed nearby, ready to transport the both of you and your injured occupants to medical attention...the other power rangers have been attended to at a nearby facility, and the president, himself, has requested we bring you all in immediately."
Farkas could see the agony in Jason's reflection but had no choice but to follow orders.
An Unknown Building, California, USA
"...with a damage bill that will climb well into the hundreds of millions, the more prominent question that remains unanswered is just how the city will cope with a loss of life that cannot be..."
Tommy looked away from the tiny television screen and twisted around, his cautious eyes relaxing when he realized it was only Katherine who had walked in. His former teammate loosened the towel around her hair and pulled it free, releasing a messy pile of wet locks around her face.
She was shivering, and yet didn't seem to realize. Her clothes, the ones she'd been wearing since she'd first arrived at the IBI facility were completely drenched.
"You should get cleaned up Tommy, have a shower," she told him evenly.
Tommy looked away for a moment. "Where are the others?" he changed the subject, slowly building the courage to look back at her despondent gaze.
He could tell by her face that his stubbornness disappointed her. "They're coming now...but really Tommy, you should let them look at your burn marks, especially-."
"I'm fine," Tommy cut her off flatly, before he closed his eyes a little and sighed, but the apology he meant to offer her didn't come out.
It had been a little over two hours since unmarked helicopters had swooped down just outside of the IBI inferno. Initial instincts had pushed at them all to run and hide, but Tommy was weighted down by the body still resting limply in his arms, bronzed in a magnificent glow. She was dead, he knew it, but he didn't want to know it. And as the others began to flee for the nearby woods, pulling on him to follow, Tommy wasn't able to do what he knew was coming next.
Even now, he could cry at the thought of Rocky leaving Kimberly to the hungry flames, despite knowing that it was the only way to save them all. To protect one of the ten billion secrets and lies they'd been exposed to and been running from. He would never give those senseless assholes the opportunity to interfere with them again, to test them or to conjure up any more horror. The fire had been a hellish end to the nightmare, but it may have been the only thing to save them now.
"I hope you didn't let them touch you," he murmured suddenly, looking over at her for a response.
She frowned slightly, wrapping her arms over her stomach. "I just had a shower, that's all," she promised. "They offered to clean the cut on my neck and I let them do that, but that's all."
Tommy tried to relax his face. "What about the others?"
"They're only in the hallway, everyone's fine…we even showered together in our clothes and they left us alone-."
Tommy put a hand to his lips and walked slowly over to her. "We shouldn't talk about this here," he whispered, before he motioned around the room with his eyes. "We don't know who might be listening."
Katherine nodded unquestioningly. At such a close distance, he could see the tears in her eyes and it tugged at him.
"Tommy, how much do these people know about us?" she whispered to him emotionally. "That's the president standing outside that door- he knows we're the power rangers, but no one has mentioned anything else-."
They both turned around a little startled as the door clicked open and four blank faces walked into the room, followed by quite a sight to anyone- the President of the United States, dressed down and without his usual swarm of bodyguards on tail.
The older man walked straight up to Tommy and extended his hand. "Thomas Oliver?"
Tommy grabbed his hand eagerly, albeit weakly. "Mr. President," he acknowledged as he shook his hand.
"I hope you have all been looked after, have you had something to eat?"
"We're not hungry," Tommy murmured.
Katherine's eyes quickly escaped over to him, before she hastily elaborated presumptuously. "What he means to say, is that we're too tired to eat right now," she explained politely.
The president nodded, but Tommy's mind kept ticking over. It didn't matter that he was so fatigued or that he was probably starting to die from it. The adrenalin still flushed through his system regardless and that was what kept ripping at him.
The déja vu was powerful. They had managed to stumble from the watchful guard of one government faculty to another. This facility was nothing more than a makeshift camp set up in a old sports stadium and was just north of Angel Grove, but it was almost completely isolated.
And worst of all, Tommy had no idea whether the men in black suits who brought them here really gave a shit about them, or were setting them up for the crush all over again.
"I would like for us to go back to the IBI facility," he croaked out, unable to stop the grimace as his throat constricted somewhat.
President Holsworthy leveled a careful gaze. "I have been told that the facility has been declared off-limits to everyone, including the city's fire brigade- I have been told that there is a considerable risk of a catastrophic explosion."
Billy nodded his head. "It is my belief, Mr. President, that the facility's self-powering facilities are housing and indeed encouraging the inferno," he explained. "It is most definitely a sound idea to ensure that all civilians, militia and city service workers remain at a considerable distance for their own safety."
The older man appeared not so much comforted by Billy's words, but swayed; as though the former blue ranger was speaking gospel. Tommy couldn't resist pushing the fact further, knowing it was perhaps their last chance.
"But, we can hardly allow the facility to burn for days, potentially weeks," Tommy told them all. "It is our duty, more so than any other, to ensure this disaster is contained."
He could feel the eyes of his friends jerk at him inconspicuously, and he could 'read' their thoughts. They didn't have any power. They didn't have any freedom, any strength left to fight. They weren't capable of saving themselves, let alone the world at this point.
Rocky, in particular, was looking at him as though he had lost his mind, but everyone was either too afraid to speak up, or clearly too tired.
"Do you have a way of containing these fires?" the president queried, as he turned around and moved over to a nearby desk. "It was my understanding, from my briefing by IBI acting agent-in-charge Robert Johns that your powers were considerably incapacitated following the attacks last decade. I assumed this was the reason as to the delay in your response to this week's sudden attacks."
Tommy felt like he couldn't even swallow the small amount of saliva sitting at his throat. Robert Johns? That evil, deplorable son-of-a-bitch who had all but destroyed the city? Pillaged their lives?
Aisha and Katherine both looked at Tommy with a terror in their eyes that only he could understand.
"You've been receiving advice from Agent Johns?" Billy numbly inquired.
The president nodded, clearly oblivious of the exchange of horrified stares and holding of thickened breaths. "It had always been the hope of this government, at least, that we would have the opportunity to personally thank you for the invaluable service of protection you offered not only to Angel Grove, but the United States and the world as a whole. Agent Johns was responsible for much of that invaluable research back in the nineteen-nineties, as he was in our response to the attacks on Angel Grove this week."
Another clone of him...the one who shot Kim?
That thought alone made Tommy almost lose his composure.
"Is Agent Johns still here?" Tommy asked, trying not to grit his teeth. "Because I'd really like to personally thank him."
President Holsworthy shook his head. "We're unable to locate him at this point of time. I've been informed that he had plans to return to the facility, prior to anyone's knowledge of the fires...It is my hope that he is unharmed."
That must have been him…Tommy's mind flashed back to their discussion underground with the supposedly 'real' Robert Johns- he had told them there had been three clones of him that he was aware of. Did that mean now that all the bastards were dead? Or were there more out there that they didn't even know about?
Tommy stopped mid thought as a knock sounded from the other side of the door. He instantly swallowed, his eyes wondering over to his teammates who all looked as frazzled as he felt inside. Their bodies tensed as it slowly opened and two uniformed police officers stared back at them with two hauntingly familiar faces standing beside them.
He had traveled this road so many times before in his rather short 'life'- followed its solitary bends and felt the tires of his car tremble across its surface that was past-due for maintenance. It was the road that led to nowhere, to nothingness. Even the ugly, overgrown shrubbery from back closer to the outskirts didn't bother to extend to a path so useless.
All around him was dust, a stony-colored continuum of dirt that the wind hadn't managed to pick up over time and take somewhere else. The wintry sun was barely clinging on, but he'd flicked the headlights of his car on miles ago. The smoke still remained clear in the reflection of his rear view mirror, forcing the day to blur too eerily into night.
It all came together to make his trip out of Angel Grove all the more appealing. Anything but lonely, anything but pointless.
It was difficult for Johns not to become so self-absorbed with the knowledge that he was the last of 'himself' in existence, at least for the short time. He'd never experienced it, being they had always had another one of them to transfer power or responsibility to along the way. Now he had the power, all to himself. It was intoxicating.
The red sun that followed his car still reminded him of the contrast of light against dark that he'd witnessed on his final, brief visit to the IBI facility before he'd left for good. Being careful not to be seen by the handfuls of morbidly curious onlookers, he had just stared at his crumbling castle in the distance knowing that his replica had succeeded beyond their wildest dreams.
The secret had remained buried beneath an inferno so intense that it had been declared completely off-limits to any breathing human being. It was nothing more than ash now, blowing about in the breeze as the fire remained fueled off their precious mentor. That, was a horrifying waste, but Johns wasn't a fool. There was no way humanly possible that they could have moved an alien trapped in a gigantic time warp thousands of miles across the ocean without inviting unwanted attention. It was Zordon, an extraterrestrial being so immensely powerful that he was thepower that allowed them to wipe out the past. Because of him, the fires would probably eat away at the charred remnants of the facility for weeks or even months from now.
Johns' reflections flicked between his relief and thoughts about what faced him and the project now. He had a ten-hour drive ahead of him to think about it all as much as he wanted. What was the meaning of the project anymore? It was all up to him now.
He had the humans and his accomplice. The only one he could trust, the only one whose brilliance hadn't been completely fucked-up by years of experimental procedures. Johns always thought that Hank Cranston had been so eccentrically gifted, but it was the knowledge his son had from his time as power ranger that made him more worthy to the agent. How he wished the real William Cranston was still alive to this day, but his carefully created and manipulated clone was the next best thing.
The humans were the only thing they needed now. With the life force of their mentor injected into their fragile veins, they would make the trip with Johns and Cranston to the island of Seréshis- back to where it all ended and then began. They would finally commence siphoning the power that lived in the island's soil and combined with Zordon's life force, they would become unstoppable.
Evil would be reborn again, just as it never should have died.
Why did he keep the project going? Why did he feel compelled to exist in such a way that meant nothing to Robert Johns? He had heard the real 'him' had been a leader in his day...A role model of sorts, the one who called the shots. He had started the project through a fondness for scientific advancement, yet more importantly to make amends for the 'mistake' that took place all those years ago on the island. His hesitation, though, led him to clone himself first- just to be sure.
That's where everything fell away and went wrong.
You shouldn't mess with life and you should definitely never play around with the dead. That was Robert Johns' most fatal mistake. All those years, all those clones. Curiosity is the essence of everything; you try something, it works; you think about how you could improve on that; you get something different, but equally promising.
Robert Michael Johns had been cloned in total three times. Yet how many mistakes occurred that destroyed the project from the inside as time went along? They cloned the dead rangers once and they were a triumph; they tried it again and the replicas died within four hours of being 'born'. The original clones of the alive humans were thought to be a success as well, yet five years down the track each of them practically bled to death from the inside because their manufactured bodies couldn't contain the power transfer.
And then there was the 'expansion' on techniques used; not just cloning, but the mutation of reconstructed, functional DNA from the dead and the living. That was where the whole 'playing God' stepped up to the next level. They literally molded together those characteristics most desirable. They'd attempted cross-cloning between alien DNA and human DNA. The results had been varied.
He...he had been perhaps the most successful of those. The strongest. The one who had reigned supreme.
He flicked another gaze into the rear-view mirror, realizing he wasn't as much of a clone as Robert Johns, but a clone of something else. Of an emperor, of an alien dictator. It might have been an effect from his merged, manufactured and ravaged mind, but he swore he saw his eyes flash with red.
The Zedd empire would rise and claim its rightful victory all in due time.
Katherine took in a sharp breath, she honestly couldn't help it.
The others were all wide-eyed.
Tommy's entire body tensed to stone, the pools of his eyes restlessly bleeding with anxiousness.
They must have been the clones that shot the police officers...Katherine thought quickly, as she watched the president take an eager step toward their newest visitors.
"We're officers Farkas Bulkmeier and Eugene Skullovich...we were told to report directly to you, Mr. President."
Katherine moved up against Tommy and wrapped her hand around his, squeezing it tightly. The clones were in a disturbing state, both of them donned in identical hospital gowns that their Kimberly and Jason had been changed into when they'd arrived at the facility. But asides from the clothing, there were little other similarities; these clones were grossly malnourished, their bare limbs smudged excessively with blood and their hair ragged and overgrown.
It was almost too difficult to look at.
"Where were they located?" the President asked the two officers, his forehead creasing and his eyes clearly disturbed by the disheveled appearance of Kimberly and Jason.
Tommy suddenly squeezed Katherine's hand so tightly, that she almost gasped out in pain. "They were at the facility but were separated from us," he rushed out as he simultaneously threw his teammates a stern glance.
Katherine snapped her head his way, her lips parting but too rigid to speak out their confusion. She looked back at the president and then moved her eyes over to Farkas and Eugene, waiting for them to at least speak up in contrast to Tommy's lie.
"They obtained these injuries at the facility?" the president asked and the larger officer nodded swiftly.
"Yes, sir," Farkas confirmed.
What is going on here, why are Bulk and Skull saying these things?
The president seemed satisfied with their explanation of events, and motioned back out toward the door.
"If you will, please ensure they are taken to be cleaned up and attended to," the president directed the two officers, before he looked over at Tommy. "There are some matters I must attend to, will you all please get some rest and please inform any of my staff should you require anything."
Tommy nodded on behalf of the group as they watched the president and Eugene and Farkas leave with the Kimberly and Jason clones. Katherine waited as the door lazily closed behind them, before she spun around and locked her sights on their former leader.
"Tommy, what on Earth are you doing?" Aisha asked in a raised whisper. "You just lied to the President of the United States."
Tommy shook his head dismissively, but Katherine grabbed his arm before he could speak. "It's wrong for you to pretend that they are Kimberly and Jason, when they are both dead," she let out in a shaky voice, the emotion growing as she continued. "I know you're hurting, but I can't honestly stand here and pretend that they are them-."
"What? Clones?" Tommy cut her off, containing his composure enough to add. "They're no less human then we are."
Katherine couldn't look him in the eyes, and cast her attention to Billy as he shuffled uneasily beside her. "What I don't understand, is why Bulk and Skull followed your lead in deception," he shared calmly. "Unless of course the two clones managed to find their way back to the facility...all though I find that highly unlikely, given their intent for freedom in the first place."
Tommy moved away from Katherine, brushing almost roughly past her, before settling a few feet away from the group. Seeing his almost disfigured head from behind, the poignant reminder of their 'real' selves and the discovery of their fatal pasts almost broke the moment for them all. Katherine could just feel it.
"Tommy, what haven't you told us?" Adam asked him quietly, as Tommy remained with his back turned to them.
Katherine waited as Tommy meekly turned to face them all.
"When Kim lied there, dying right in my arms, she told me not to trust anyone," he retold, careless to the fact that his eyes were watering. "If anyone knew that those two were clones, then we'd lose all control and they'd become nothing more than lab rats all over again."
Quiet contemplation for a moment.
Rocky sighed despondently. "Tommy, have you considered that maybe the president already knows the truth? After all, they were the two clones arrested for those shootings. And even if we are somehow able to convince the government and the world that they are the real Jason and Kimberly, then they'll only end up in prison for first-degree murder."
"We could argue that they shot those agents and the two police officers in a moment of insanity- both Kim and Jason were being treated for clinical depression and sleep disorders," Tommy stated defiantly.
Katherine's gaze narrowed at his admission. "I don't understand..." she admitted.
"How do you know that Kimberly and Jason were being treated for such things?" Aisha asked him.
Billy took a step forward. "I can confirm that we discovered information relating to both of them being treated by the same doctor in New York in records that were at the IBI facility- these documents indicated that they both suffered from insomnia, nightmares and eventually depression," he explained, before pursing his lips.
Tommy nodded gently, his face settling. "Jason never went into great details, but he was plagued by problems since Seréshis..." he sighed. "Kimberly was, too, but I didn't-." he stopped and shook his head at himself, before looking back at them. "None of that matters now- what does matter, is that we get out of here together. We can't stay here..."
"Yeah, but Tommy, the public is sure to know that we're rangers by now- none of this will stay hidden forever, and then what?" Aisha reasoned, approaching him with empathetic eyes.
Katherine closed her eyes, wishing away the closely approaching tears as she felt a hand rest on her shoulder."I've got a plan," Tommy announced, and Katherine lowered her hand from her face. "But for it to work, we need to be in this together..."