Chapter 30: No Return
Tommy hesitated for a moment and then rattled his knuckles on the ajar door, pushing it open the remainder of the way as he heard the commanding voice invite him in.
The president glanced up from a pile of papers, his expression still and void of emotion. Tommy, despite everything pumping in his veins and in his brain offered the older man a smile of some sort, bowing his head briefly at a uniformed officer who stood stationed in the corner of the small, makeshift room.
"I apologize for the interruption, Mr. President," Tommy offered politely.
"Please sit, Mr. Oliver," the older man gestured to a chair. "Or would you prefer I address you as white ranger?"
Tommy reluctantly lowered himself into the chair, clasping his hands together. "Tommy is just fine," he replied honestly.
The president quietly dismissed the security guard, before he removed his glasses, rubbing his eyes thoughtfully. "How can we assist you, Tommy?"
Tommy sucked in a lengthened breath. "I've been discussing the issues of the out of control fires at the IBI facility with my teammates. We believe that we're best equipped to go to ground zero- to closely inspect and monitor the situation so that we can substantiate a way to deal with it in a safe manner, before it turns into a much larger catastrophe."
The older man studied him for a moment, before he slid his glasses back on. "I confess that I know and understand little of what you do all do, Mr. Oliver; but from the point of view of human welfare, I will be forthright and admit I am both dismayed and saddened by the physical states of your teammates. I had always been under the impression that your powers prevented you from obtaining such debilitating injuries," he shook his head a little. "Please forgive me if I am overstepping my authority in this situation, but are you certain you are ready to return to your duties?"
Tommy was honestly overwhelmed by the president's genuine honesty and poignant show of respect; but at the same time, his deteriorating state of awareness had been too run down for him to react with any emotion, even to show his appreciation. All he could think of was his teammates and how he owed it to them.
How he was going to set them all free.
This…was only the first step of many.
He licked his lips. "We've been through so many difficult times in the past…this time, is like many of those, only we don't have an option but to keep fighting…It's what we've always stood for. This is in the interest of everybody," he added, his eyes lowering a notch.
The president nodded. "I will not stand in your way, please let me know how we can assist you in the task, however possible."
"Transport, to the facility, would be greatly appreciated," Tommy asked.
"Of course," president Holsworthy replied impetuously. "I can arrange for you to be transported back to site via air."
"Thank you," Tommy responded genuinely, slowly standing up from the chair. His muscles screamed for him to remain still, to lessen their movement. How he craved to feel the manufactured ranger armor wrapped back around his limbs again, feeding to him the healing pulse that had eased so much of his agony.
With a brief handshake and final exchange of words, Tommy turned around and exited the room, silently acknowledging the guard who was standing just outside the door. Walking in almost tip-toe, he headed back down the lonely hall, stopping as he came to a corner.
He let his eyes venture inconspicuously down to the left, stopping as they landed on Billy and Katherine who were standing and waiting for his sign, just as planned. Taking a deep breath, he offered them a discreet nod of the head, signaling that the final plan was set in motion.
Billy could hear the steady pounding of water from a short distance up the old school hall and he continued on with Katherine in its direction, surprising even himself just how anxious he was. He hadn't expected everything to go so smoothly; he hadn't expected to see Tommy signaling them to push on so quickly. It all came together to prove that the president – his government at least, had no idea just what had really transpired at the IBI facility.
That the secret of who they really were still remained intact.
And for the life of him, Billy had no idea how that was remotely possible. For a government faculty to destroy so many basic morals, to exist in such a blatantly corrupt fashion went against everything that he had believed their country had stood for; dishonesty was nothing new in politics, but this put an entirely new spin on the evils of power.
Still, Tommy had set them a task to do and the outcome of that was all Billy could focus on as he entered the change room with Katherine closely behind him. From a quick glance, it was obvious the room was empty of non-ranger presence.
"They must be in the shower," Katherine whispered, as she gestured over to the stall where they had both showered themselves, only a couple of hours earlier.
The steam beaded at his brow and Billy grabbed onto the shower curtain, pulling it open, before stepping back into Katherine.
Katherine grabbed onto his arm, the two friends staring disheartedly at the two, shivering forms huddled together in the furthest corner of the shower. The water was only just managing to hit the toes of their bare feet while their limbs were bunched together, covered in their drenched hospital gowns.
It was distressing to watch. They were seemingly soulless clones, but it was still too difficult for him to comprehend. Sighing sadly, Billy leaned over and under the shower's spray, turning the taps off, before he gestured for Katherine to fetch some towels.
"Here you go," Katherine passed him one, starting apprehensively at the clones. "We really need to change them out of those gowns…it looks terrible."
Billy knelt down, watching the clone of Jason carefully, assessing his response to his approach. "I don't think there's anything here to change them into...we might just have to try and dry them as best as we can…" he sighed. "We're running out of time."
Katherine nodded, before they both moved onto the difficult task of getting the clones of their former teammates out of the shower. Just getting them to stand was a challenge enough, but despite their mental incapacitation and obvious fear, they eventually complied with their gentle prodding and pulling.
They helped them both slump to the center of the tiled floor, staring around with lost expressions.
"You do Kimberly and I'll do Jason," Billy directed Katherine, as they both kneeled behind their designated clone.
Billy could see Katherine's apprehension, but he guided his eyes quickly away and began to untie the ties of Jason's gown. The knots were frustratingly tight, the thin strands of fabric so heavily deformed that as Billy finally managed to undo them, he had to wonder how long they'd made him wear it for.
Katherine released a breathy grimace. "Oh my goodness...look what they did to them..."
The bare flesh of their backs were like the surface of a pin cushion, rings of red and blue painfully blistering and bruising around the countless spread of needle marks.
Billy swallowed heavily, not knowing what to say; not knowing how to respond. "These marks must be from all the testing they did on them…" his sentence trailed off as the clone of Kimberly suddenly lashed a weak arm out toward Katherine.
Katherine flinched a little in response and Billy sighed, shuffling over to help her. As much as he didn't feel right doing so, helping Katherine at this point of time was the only thing that would keep their task on track. He carefully placed his hands on both of the clone's shoulders, holding her still while Katherine began the hurried task of drying her exposed body.
Billy's eyes wondered around, falling on the petite, malnourished frame before him. He didn't want to touch her. It was literally killing him inside just acknowledging what these poor people had suffered.
Billy bit his lip, his downcast eyes stopping as they noticed a different mark on her back, one in a completely different shape to all the others.
It couldn't be.
Billy shot his hand down, resting it on Kimberly's bare back. Despite Katherine's look of confusion, he let his fingers brush gently over the three-inch long mark, oblivious to the way in which his touch was making the clone shiver.
"What is it?" Katherine asked gently.
Her hand touched his other one, and he shook himself out of his trance. "That scar..." he paused, and tugged on Katherine's hand, motioning for her to move around.
"What?" she asked again gently.
Billy gestured to the pinkish scar that ran a length from the clone's spine to her side. "She has the scar, the one Kimberly got during one of our earlier battles," he said.
Katherine's eyes narrowed. "Billy, I don't understand what you're trying to say," she admitted.
Billy shuffled on his knees. "When Kimberly was injured underground and we were cleaning her wounds, Tommy noticed that she no longer had that scar- that was why he was suspicious that she had been a clone," he recalled. "And then we learned or believed at least that we were all clones, but..." he had to stop, as he covered his mouth in disbelief. "What if neither Kimberly nor Jason died on Seréshis, Kat?"
"What did we observe in both of them, as well as Trini and Zack that the rest of us didn't experience?" he asked her, cutting her off.
Katherine looked at him blankly for a moment, before she moved to tuck some hair behind her ear. "They were both glowing...Jason seemed to become unwell the longer we were there...but I thought that was a cover-up? Nothing more than a lie they told us to get us there in the first place."
Robert Johns' lies had made it impossible for so long to tell facts from fiction, but Billy knew he couldn't ignore the science. "The technology used by the IBI meant that the clones – us – are exact genetic replicas, but without any consequences obtained by our bodies during our lifetime, including injuries, marks and scars…" he lowered his hand from Kimberly's back. "I remember this cut like it happened to Kimberly yesterday…I remember how upset she'd been because it had bled onto one of her favorite tops," he stopped and shook his head quickly.
"Oh my goodness," Katherine whispered, covering her mouth with her hand. "That means this is the real Kimberly and Jason," she realized.
Billy swallowed, before he valiantly reached for Katherine's shoulder, squeezing it with a gentle force. "We need to get them out of here, right away..."
Katherine nodded, and they hurried with an intensity that neither knew they probably had left. The tears filled the very pit of Billy's insides. He felt the puzzle visualize before him and as he finished drying the back of the original red ranger, he felt on the brink of real tears. He hadn't a single doubt in his own theory, but the realization dawned with it an even greater horror than learning it was really Jason before him; really Kimberly beside him.
It meant that there was an unquestionable chance that Trini and Zack had been kept alive all these years and Billy didn't even want to think about what their fate was.
Johns rested his elbow on the door frame, lowering his ear to where his cell sat perched in his hand. The line rang only once; twice, before the other man answered, without offering any greeting.
"It's me," Johns murmured into the phone. "I've just passed through Ivanhoe."
The other line remained silent, irritating the agent somewhat. "Did I call you at a bad time?"
"No," the other man replied swiftly, yet without confidence. All though somehow, Johns had always found the younger man to be somewhat lacking in the buoyancy department.
"I can report that it's all been taken care of...expertly, I am pleased to say," Johns reported, thinking back to Angel Grove- The IBI inferno; the cover-up.
"Where are you?"
Again, the other man's response took time to sound. "I'm going through the container now...Something doesn't seem right..."
Johns lifted his foot off the accelerator a little, knowing he had a tendency for driving too fast when he was pissed off. "What doesn't look right?" he asked through gritted teeth. "You idiots had a week to get this shit together- what could you possibly forget?"
"We didn't forget anything...we've lost something is what we did, but I had nothing to do with it- I thought you said you got the humans out of the facility last week?"
Johns frowned. He was growing restless. This was exactly the God-damned reason why he didn't like having to depend on others to fuck everything up for him. "They were taken out to port last Thursday- Have you checked the cages properly? I asked those assholes to leave them some water and bread..." his sentence trailed off as he listened to random movement on the other end of the line. "You find them dead, your head will roll-."
"They're not in here!" the other man's voice cut him off forcibly. "The Asian and the African-American are here, but I can't find the other two- the other cages are empty-."
Johns roughly jerked the car to the side of the road, cursing ten words at a time that muffled into an inaudible exclamation. "Are you telling me they just disappeared? Where the fuck are they? They're God-damned retards, William!"
More noise ruffled about from the other end; banging, grunting, outbursts of frustration... "Are you sure they took them?" William Cranston- a clone – finally asked, his words carefully pushed beneath his madness.
Johns squeezed the phone within his palm. "The four of them were taken out together. I was told there were some minor hiccups along the way, but that they were taken care of."
"And you don't think it's a coincidence that two clones of Hart and Scott escaped that Friday and were filmed shooting down IBI agents?" Cranston's voice filtered through.
Johns turned the engine of his car off and stared absently through the windscreen for a moment. "I was told those clones escaped from inside the facility..." he seethed as his throat tightened. He lowered the phone from his ear for a moment, before putting it back up to speak. "I ordered agents to shoot them down...".
Johns was unable to find his voice. It was as though his plans were shattering before his very face, as though like so many countless times before in his life- in the life of the emperor's- something refused to let him win. Could they have possibly wasted bullets on two of their most prized possessions?
No, it was a guarantee.
"It doesn't matter..."
"What doesn't matter?" Cranston's voice returned to him with controlled distaste.
"Plans will go ahead unchanged," Johns decided, as he turned the key, starting the car into a gentle purr. "Trini and Zack will both have enough power for us to push forward and continue with all that we discussed. I shall do some inquiries over the phone just to ensure that Kimberly and Jason really are dead..."
"And how do you plan on obtaining that information? If you put the call in, you'll blow your cover story and they'll know you're still alive," Cranston put it to him.
"There is still a clone of your father wandering about the scene, dear William," Johns explained with self-satisfaction. "He will prove most useful at this time; we will just have to dispose of him at a later stage..."
He heard William sigh with settled satisfaction. "A solid plan, my lord."
Johns chuckled a little, before he ended the call and steered his vehicle back onto the long stretch of road, dialing the number of Hank Cranston from the top of his head.
The sound of the helicopter's spinning blades, carrying the craft on route for the IBI inferno was so damn loud, that Adam couldn't hear a word Tommy was saying. He didn't even know he was claustrophobic until he followed his leader, Rocky and Aisha into the windowless cabin and now, he was starting to panic a little. Inside. He was trying not to show it, but his face must have been so transparently twisted.
He rubbed at his eyes, his hand dropping slightly as the floor below them dipped unexpectedly.
"Adam," Rocky cocked his chin, frowning heavily. "What's wrong?"
Adam shook his head. "Nothing," he all but mumbled, sliding in closer to their tight circle. Aisha looked up at him with...sadness. And he had to wonder a few things himself.
Like how long it would be before Rocky's steel would die off a bit. They'd been friends for how many years? Thirteen. Yet he didn't even know him anymore and it wasn't that Adam thought it was a bad thing, but it had thrown him off the whole time they'd been at the IBI facility. Even now, he could feel the frown settle on his face. And he was avoiding Tommy's gaze altogether.
Because he knew the former white ranger felt like he had so much to prove and in a way Adam wanted to stand up to him and tell him that what he was making them do was wrong. Aisha had every reason in the world to look so torridly shaken. They didn't even get a chance to say goodbye. They had a whole heap of memories, but even Adam couldn't trust those.
Who knew just how much of what they remembered of their pasts was one, epic lie? Manufactured. Pretend. Make-believe.
God...how he wished he'd called his mother that night before his shift started. The day the IBI had taken them away.
"Adam? Adam, are you getting this?"
Adam blinked, only just catching Rocky's voice over the helicopter's humming. "I'm sorry, I wasn't listening," he admitted, sighing to himself. "I was thinking about my mother."
Aisha's hand crawled the small distance between them and squeezed his, as Tommy looked at him like someone had burst his bubble.
"We're gonna be at the facility soon, Ad; we really need to get our plan together," Rocky told him.
Adam swallowed, feeling his face twist bitterly. "I've got the fundamentals of the plan," he assured his friend, shaking his head. "But before Tommy asks us all to run off to Mexico and start a new life, I thought I would give myself a few minutes to pretend this madness isn't really happening and to think about everything I'm leaving behind. My mother, for one thing."
"I'm not making you do anything," Tommy's voice was lowly, carrying contrastingly through the noise. "I know how much your mother means to you, Adam-."
Adam turned his head away, not wanting to show the building emotion, yet knowing he had nowhere to hide.
"We can do this, Adam," Aisha whispered, edging toward his face. "You know this is the best thing, not for us, but for those that we love. Your mother will be safe and she will live with a pride in her heart for you that can never be taken away."
Adam squeezed his eyes shut, breathing in slow, steady breaths as he felt his composure slowly -gratefully- return.
"Are you all right?" Tommy asked him gently and Adam valiantly looked his friend in the eye.
"I'm sorry, I just…" he sighed. "I used to think we were so brave, saving the planet and doing all those crazy things…but this…I just hope we can pull it off."
Tommy nodded with clear determination. "We need to stay together as a group…we tell them that we're going to check it out and as soon as we can determine that we're out of sight, we go for it. We're not going to have any time to hesitate-."
His sentence stopped, as they all felt the floor below them drop slightly. Hearing the helicopter's propellers whirl through a different frequency of sound, Adam had no doubt in his mind that they had reached their destination
Adam slowly moved from his seated position, waiting until he felt the craft land with a slight thud, before he motioned for the others to follow his lead. As the door from the cabin was opened from the outside, drawing wide and inviting a burst of thick smoke and airy heat, he immediately moved to pull the top of his shirt over his nose and mouth.
"We're going to have to move the helicopter further back!" the pilot told them, his voice at the level of a yell as he tried to force it above all the noise. "We're too close here!"
Adam moved a little as Tommy scurried over to his side, shooting a gestured hand out toward the man. "You're right to drop us here," he assured him.
"I can't wait for you this close to the fire," the man hurried back, as a blustery wind muffled his words. "Occupational health and safety would have my ass!"
Tommy grabbed onto Adam, motioning for him to get out of the helicopter. The black ranger complied and slid out, turning around to help Aisha down. He kept a close eye on Tommy as the white ranger immediately set task on continuing the conversation with pilot, before the government worker scurried to the front of the helicopter.
"What's he doing?" Rocky asked exasperatedly, as Aisha started to cough.
Adam looked about nervously, shifting his lethargic eyes from his leader to the pilot as the government worker headed back toward them after a minute or so.
"You don't need to stay with us," Tommy started to tell the man, gesturing widely in the direction of the facility.
"That's not what I've just been told," the pilot explained. "I've just had a call and have been ordered to take you all back to camp now."
Aisha shot Adam a look of horror as Tommy's whole body visibly tensed. "With all due respect, our credentials speak louder than any bureaucratic advice you've been handed," he stated firmly. "We're here to do our job."
The pilot appeared largely pissed-off at Tommy's comment and reached for the radio fastened to his belt.
"Look, the president himself permitted us access to this site," Tommy reasoned. "He ordered you to fly this helicopter here, didn't he?"
"Yeah, and he's also the one that just sent communication to me a mere thirty-seconds ago informing me there's been a change of plans," the pilot explain matter-of-factory.
Adam could feel his insides turn. He could feel it. The dé ja vu.
"And what change of plans would those be?" Rocky asked.
The pilot shook his head. "Look, I'm just the messenger," he explained. "I'm sure the President and IBI will be happy to explain them to you when you all arrive-."
The end of his sentence was knocked off and obliterated, as a loud noise rattled and combusted in direction of the burning building. They all ducked instinctively, shielding their heads and huddling together, before courageously sneaking glances back in its direction.
It's gonna explode, it's gonna explode, it's gonna explode…
"We have to go, now!" the pilot yelled, scrambling to his feet and heading for the driver's cabin.
"Tommy, what are we going do?" Adam asked, trying to keep his voice down. "The facility could explode at any moment-."
"I'm not letting any of you go back to them," Tommy declared intensely, the words slipping out like whispers stabbing them over and over again. "I will cover for you all, but I need you all to run for that fire- now."
Adam watched Rocky's eyes darken. "No way, Tommy. Billy and Kat are depending on us to meet up with them...we're a team, we stick together-."
"Yeah, and I'm the fucking leader," Tommy cut him off, surprisingly emotionally, before his face turned. "You know where my uncle's hut is," he looked at Adam. "Take Aisha and head there now."
Time stood still. Not literally, but within the depths of the black ranger's mind that deliberated with everything he knew and everything he could remember. Was Tommy really trying to be the hero now, at a moment where they all needed to be heroes? Could his self-sacrifice be enough to set them free, even though they'd never be free without him?
"No," Adam shook his head, as he heard the helicopter's pilot call out to them. "I'm not leaving you...you're my friend Tommy and I would rather die than live knowing I went against my better instincts."
Tommy rubbed his face, as Aisha grabbed onto his hand, stepping up to him. Adam couldn't hear what she was saying, but as his eyes stared aimlessly through the smoky haze, Adam saw the one thing that would make their minds up for them.
"Guys, there's more of them!" Adam hissed, grabbing Aisha's arm, and extending his other into the sky. "They must be coming for us."
Tommy twisted his head as they all looked at the looming helicopters with an inexpressible doom.
"You're coming with us," Adam told him, stepping up to him. "We'll be heroes together or we'll die together, but either way we're going...now."
Tommy pursed his lips, before he nodded, looking to each of them. "Are you sure you guys are ready for this? Once we start, we can't go back. Ever."
They all nodded sullenly, distractingly, miserably, with fear and then with Rocky leading the way, they exploded into a sprint of what could be the last ticking moment of their lives.
It was do or die.