Chapter 3: Late Night Chill
New York City
Saturday, December 13th
Some time after midnight...
Meanwhile, on the other side of the country, the magnificent lights in New York City frosted the pathway and passing shop front windows, as Jason paced evenly down the sidewalk. The chill in the air was so much more suffocating than he'd predicted, but he merely folded his arms around his chest and quickened his step.
His motel was only a block from the conference center, and to Jason that was almost next-door, but to his fellow classmates, it was a taxi ride. He couldn't believe how they'd all lined up to catch a taxi after their late night class had finished, and dismissed their invite with flick of the hand. They wanted to go and party, and Jason just wanted to go to bed.
He was a little sorry that he'd passed up the invite as he reached his lonely motel room. Tossing his jacket on a solitary chair, he dragged himself in for a quick shower, before turning to bed. Cursing at himself for not leaving the heater on before he left for class, he tried to warm himself by getting under the thick blankets, but they did nothing much to sooth his. He was still freezing.
He sighed in the darkness and rolled over, fumbling blindly on the bedside table for his cell phone. With the press of a button, the screen lit up and he frowned a little as he noticed more than a dozen missed calls. The number didn't remotely look familiar, but on seeing it he remembered the strange call he'd received earlier that morning.
It had to have been a prank. Someone had called him, telling him they knew he was a power ranger and that they wanted him to turn himself in because his life was in danger. The initial shock had caused him to hang up immediately, and he had tried to call Tommy and Adam in Angel Grove, but they hadn't picked up their side.
The intensive class that night for his business management course had taken priority in his mind, but now his thoughts were racing. Who was trying to call him? Who would even know that he was a ranger?
He stared at the number for a moment longer, before a wry smile crept along his face. It was an Angel Grove number…it had to be Zack! Jason laughed at himself in the dark as the realization came to mind. Now he'd have to get his childhood friend back for sure.
At least now he could relax and let his guard down now. Sleep came to him in less than ten minutes, but like so often nowadays, he found himself wide-awake some two hours later.
Shit, it's cold…How the hell was it even possible that he could be so cold?
He grabbed his cell and glanced at the time. Satisfying himself that she would definitely be awake at this time, he let his thumb scroll through the stored numbers on the phone and stopped as it reached the only name stored in the 'K' directory. It rang a good three rings, before a flushed voice burst from the other end:
"Hey Kimmie," he greeted, surprisingly wide-awake. He laughed as she groaned in response.
"I thought you were in New York?" she huffed.
"Yeah, I am, but I…I'm freezing, and bored and quite honestly looking forward to getting back home," he admitted.
"Aw, poor baby," she cooed teasingly. "If it makes you feel any better, I am skating around in an empty skating rink in a dress no bigger than by bathing suit."
She giggled and he smiled at her description. "How's your break going?" he asked, not bothering to point out that any sane person would be in bed at such a time.
"Yeah, it's okay. I'm staying in this deserted cabin my really weird uncle and aunt of mine own, and their place is totally in the sticks, but it's really relaxing. It didn't take me long to find a skating rink, either."
"Yeah, well make sure you take a break," he told her. "I can't believe I'm gonna say this, but I miss my own bed…I don't think they exactly splurged when they chose this place to stay at."
"I told you, you could have stayed at my place," her voice was slightly exasperated. "The spare bed's never been used."
"I can slum it," he tried to sound convincing, wishing he would have thought of Kimberly's offer before he'd checked in. "Speaking of home, have you spoken to Zack at all? I think he tried to prank me today from his new number."
"Has he moved? I didn't realize, I'm like so disconnected nowadays…let me know his number when you get it, 'k?"
"Sure," he replied. "I better get to sleep…have fun."
Jason lowered the phone back on the nightstand, smiling as he thought of his old friends. It was always so weird talking to them, yet at the same time there was nothing that made him feel better. After big breaks of non-communication for the first few years since he'd left the rangers, he'd finally had the chance to have Tommy back in his day-to-day life and Kimberly had made a genuine long-distance effort with staying in almost weekly contact.
They were the things he'd thought he'd lost. Living as a sixteen-year-old on the other side of the world, Jason had quickly adapted to accepting his previously unbreakable friendships were a thing of the past; that it was all a part of growing up. It was strange how the week he'd returned to the States from Switzerland had flung him back into the swing of things like a retracting elastic band.
He often thought about the final battle. How, unbelievable events had played out that brought him there that day, scampering for his life beside Kimberly. Not since the days when Tommy had lost his original green ranger powers could Jason remember actually being afraid, like he was that day.
Damn it, don't think about that now…
The memories from those days were hard to move on from. It didn't get any easier, just because they weren't rangers anymore. God, he hadn't been a ranger for well over half a decade, yet he still felt suffocated by the fact that it was the biggest part of his life, and he could never share it with anyone.
The others didn't seem so held back. Everyone had pretty much excelled in every dream they had chosen to follow. They had successfully molded into society without so much more than a whispered reminiscence every few weeks, and the occasional reminder on the television or in the media. Despite the rather abrupt changes to his life, Jason was genuinely happy; he was doing what he'd always wanted and he couldn't look past that.
But still, he missed being a ranger like nothing else. Childish dreaming, he guessed.
He let the darkness filter through his heavy eyes, and he thought about Zack. He would have to think of something seriously mischievous to get the original black ranger back.
And, as the possibilities swapped and steadied in his thoughts, Jason quickly sat up as his motel door suddenly flung open.
Kimberly didn't return to the ice after her call to Jason, instead deciding to follow his brotherly advice and relax. She didn't really know what that word meant- and being on vacation in the middle of nowhere made that task even more difficult.
She glanced at her watch as she waltzed out of the enclosed rink and cringed. If her coach realized she was getting such little sleep nowadays, she'd never hear the end of his annoying accent.
Still, despite the time, she had shortly after found herself at a tiny 24-7 convenience store, treating herself to a creamy hot chocolate for the short drive to her Uncle's cabin in the dark. The weather was bitter, but her oversized sweater was more than enough comfort as she passed through the frothy, snow capped hills.
She was feeling better already, by then. She was a night owl, after all, and the drive was strangely relaxing.
After arriving at the empty cabin she had quickly decided to check in with her father over the phone. He sounded elated to hear that she had found the time to relax, even though she blatantly lied about how much time she'd been practicing. There was a fleeting mention of the Event, but Kimberly steered away from the topic with seeming ease.
The upcoming world Figure-skating championships had occupied her every thought for a demanding six months. Everyday, she would wake up and skate for hours on end, stopping only for meal breaks. It was rigorous, but never boring, and that was why she loved it. As she had lived her younger years for gymnastics, the thrill of perfecting a single skating routine was heart-stopping enough to keep her going.
But a break was on the cards for months, and being as rebellious as always, Kimberly had knocked back vacation offers from family, and instead decided to some quiet time on her own. The main room in the desolate cottage was pure country chic, and she loved the smell of potpourri that filled her nostrils. It was homely and pink, and reminded her of all the things she used to cherish growing up.
It had been so long since she'd had such peace to herself. She could read her Cosmopolitan magazine, soak in the bath or strum aimlessly on her guitar. It was certainly not a vacation idea that would usually match her acquisitive taste, but now that she'd truly experienced it, she was starting to enjoy the idea of a break away from the limelight.
Then the phone rang. Who would be calling her at nearly three-thirty in the morning?
As Kimberly scampered over to answer it, she cursed a little under her breath. Necessity or not, cell phones were the last thing you wanted when you desired your own company.
"Read page five," the familiar voice greeted from the other side, without any sort of formal greeting.
Kimberly rolled her eyes. "I thought you said you weren't going to read the papers?" she reminded her skating partner.
She could hear Anthony Amoretti fumble with something on his end. "Page five has a piece on TiAn Zheng and Chen Cao. Says they're touring and performing free exhibitions on the East Coast…"
"Tony," Kimberly drew out exasperatedly. "Forget them, okay? I'm not going to read about any of the other teams…it will just make me too nervous."
"Nuh, nuh, nuh," he said as though she had said something offensive. "I don't want to hear anything about being nervous. You are great; we are the best. There is no competition."
Kimberly laughed softly, bashful at his words and not at all believing them. She was going to respond in kind, but quickly changed her mind. "I don't want to talk about this now," she admitted. "I still have another few days of peace and quiet. Until then, I don't want to hear anything about the championships, okay?"
"You sure you don't want to come back tomorrow so we can get an extra week in?"
She groaned loudly. "No. Don't even think about it. Now, unless you have anything important to talk about, can you please let me get back to my bubble bath and Cosmo? Do you realize what time it is here?"
"Make sure you get some practice in-."
"Goodnight Tony," she drawled out, before she swiftly hung up. She hadn't meant to sound so rude, but surely the man she had spent almost six months straight with could understand that she wanted some time to herself.
It's not like they were married or anything. They certainly were not in love or even casual lust. Despite the petty and clichéd gossip that occasionally found its way into the papers, Kimberly didn't see Anthony as anything more than a typical Italian boy who expected far too much from all the women in his life.
She grew tired before she reached the end of her magazine, and noticing the quickly dissipating bubbles around her, Kimberly dragged herself out of the bath and into her nightgown. The white flannelette felt so good against her skin that she walked in a near trancelike state up the hallway to her room, stopping only as she heard a knock on the front door.
Kimberly waited. Was it just the breeze outside?
The knock sounded a second time, this time clearer and more distinctive. Guessing it was a local coming for wood or supplies, she casually opened the door but stopped halfway as she recognized the out of place visitors on the other side.
"Kimberly Hart?" one of them asked, although it was clear from his tone that he wasn't asking a question.
She clenched her hand around the door, doing her best to keep a gap between them. "Who are you?" she asked with flared caution. She quickly skimmed their dark uniforms for any signs of cameras, but Kimberly already had a feeling they weren't a part of the paparazzi.
"My name is Agent Myers and we represent the IBI…we are here to escort you to our headquarters in California so we can place you in protective custody."
Kimberly frowned with confusion. "Wh-why? Who or what is the IBI? Did my manager have something to do with this-."
"We are aware that you served our planet as the pink ranger for some time back during Lord Zedd's attacks against Angel Grove, and with recent intelligence, we have reason to believe that your life, and the life of your teammates, are all under serious threat."
Kimberly let out a strangled breath. It was almost a gasp, but more like a scoff, as though someone had shined a bright light into her eyes and she had been left stunned.
"I uh…" She squinted her eyes. "How does anyone know about that?" she whispered.
"You must come with us now. There isn't much time."
She stared back at the man for a moment, before she slowly shook her head. No. There was no way she was going off in the middle of the night with three men who looked like they were part of the cast for 'Men in Black'.
"You know, I've seen movies like this," she started, grateful she had finally found her inner strength to speak up, "and I'd be really careful if I were you- I'm still more than capable of throwing a few butts around, and if you wanna press this further-."
"And, if you want to wait another minute, hour or day to come to your senses, Miss. Hart, you'll soon find yourself bleeding pink from the inside and dying a very slow and painful death…"
Kimberly blinked. The fear had her choked, once more. "I'm going to call Jason," she suddenly decided with a shaky voice, feebly pulling on the door in an attempt to close it.
Agent Myers shot out a quick hand and started at her with uncompromising eyes. "Mr. Scott is waiting in the vehicle behind us," he countered. "Our flight leaves for Angel Grove Airport in just under three hours."
Adam knew all too well how stress, exhaustion and isolation were all major contributors to advanced psychosis. It was pretty easy to refer to someone as being crazy or completely nuts, but when it was happening to your own twisted mind, it was something almost unbearable.
Okay, so he wasn't exactly going crazy, at least not in an obvious sense. He had been sitting in the tiny gray room for over twelve hours, and for something so inconspicuous, the experience was quite nail grinding.
Aisha had spoken nearly the entire time. That was her way of dealing with stress, and Adam wasn't surprised. He'd known her since the fifth grade, and she had always been one to deliberate over much smaller situations. Concern for her friends was only driving that habit to a new height. She was constantly repeating herself and Adam was growing tired of being polite and telling her it was okay.
Tommy was just plain out weird. He'd had moments of vented frustration, where he'd pace around the 'box' and ramble on about how they had ended up in the situation in the first place. The rest of the time he'd remained fairly quiet. He didn't seem to sleep, but just stared at his shoes or fiddled insistently with his wallet.
They hadn't been told much more about their 'situation'. Adam just didn't know how to take any of it- they weren't being held entirely against their will, but no one at the facility seemed to sincerly care about the fact that their lives were apparently hanging by a thread.
It was as though they were playing a waiting game, but for what, Adam didn't really know.
"You think we should ask to use a phone?" he gently suggested, as Aisha's words' finally died down.
He glanced down at his watch as he spoke. It was late and he was supposed to be starting his shift at the hospital in under an hour's time.
Aisha shrugged half-heartedly, but her eyes suddenly widened and she leapt to the windowed door. Suddenly tugging violently on the door, she began to call out, her body moving so viciously that Adam was momentarily stunned.
"Rocky!" she screamed out hysterically, over and over again.
"Aisha!" Tommy quickly let out, jumping up and grabbing her on the shoulders. He pulled her away from the window and glanced out eagerly, before turning to Adam with wide eyes.
"Rocky is out there," he said. "They were taking him somewhere."
Adam tried to mask his fear. "Maybe they're taking him wherever Billy is?" he suggested, silently grateful his childhood buddy would soon be reunited with them.
God, they needed his out-of-place humor more than ever now.
Tommy's face withdrew to serious, inner thought, before his eyes sparked back in Adam's direction. "Maybe we should just tell these people that if they won't tell us what the hell is going on, then we want to go home."
Aisha reached up and rested a hand on Tommy's tense lower arm. "Tommy's right," she agreed. "If they really thought our lives were in danger, don't you think they'd be doing something more than just locking us up in some room? We do have rights, you know."
Adam felt torn. "But guys, they know everything about us- if they know all of that, then they must be telling the truth."
"Or some version of their twisted truth," Tommy stated. "I say we get out of here and see Zordon-."
The door behind them clicked and opened, and the three friends swung around in time to meet familiar blue eyes. Billy Cranston's lips' were pursed, hands predictably driven into the pockets of an all too familiar uniform.
"Billy," Aisha let out, reaching out to point his way. "Why are you wearing one of those uniforms?"
Adam knew Billy very well. After their stint as rangers, they'd grown closer together thanks to their mutual desire for career success, and the former blue ranger had been more than instrumental in Adam's own achievements as a training paramedic. Billy had always been of a serious and reserved nature, but the look on his face now was one that Adam hadn't seen since their days of fighting side by side.
"Hey guys," was all Billy managed to say. "I apologize for not coming to see you sooner-."
"How did you get out there alone?" Tommy asked him. "We've been trying to get out of here, but the door is locked and the phone doesn't work."
"I uh." Billy sighed nervously. "I work here- on volunteer basis. My father's been assisting them with their latest research on human adaptation to outer space, and they agreed to let me use their front house research as part of my latest thesis for my class."
"But, why are we here?" Adam asked his close friend. "Do you have any idea why they would believe our lives are in danger, and what it has to do with us being rangers?"
Aisha crossed her arms over her chest. "And how on earth did they even work out our identities in the first place? I couldn't see any reason why any of us would want anyone to know-."
"I told them," Billy rushed out, eyes plastered to the ground.
Adam stared at him in shock, before the former blue ranger courageously lifted his head. "I didn't have a choice, guys…something terrible happened yesterday, something I never…never…" He stopped, the words choking and clogging so they could no longer understand him.
Adam brushed gently past Tommy and reached for Billy's shoulder, trying his best to coax the genius on. "What happened?" Adam whispered.
"Zack's dead," Billy said, his hand covering his face. "He died alone and it was his powers that killed him."