Chapter 31: Feigned Freedom
Farkas scurried down the steps, taking two at a time, avoiding the heavy stare that followed his back as he made his way out of the presidential make-shift facility. He could feel the heat literally bubbling beneath his collar; as though steam would have began to spurt out from his ears if they were in some silly cartoon show.
But alas, the situation was anything but comical or lighthearted.
"Farkas?" Eugene called out to him half a dozen times, as he remained a few steps behind his friend's agitated gait.
Farkas finally stopped short, keeping his back to Eugene for a moment while he tried to untwist his features.
"We need to go back in there," Eugene moved in front of him. "We can't just see all of that and then pretend it didn't happen."
Farkas twisted his lips again, only just avoiding rolling his eyes for greater effect. "Don't you get it, Eugene? This is the government we're talking about here…they don't tell people like you or I anything. That must have been what Jason was talking about in the car…"
Eugene frowned and shook his head. "What? They weren't trying to do anything bad to them…They looked like they were trying to help them."
Farkas shoved his hand into his pocket and pulled out a lonely key ring with one numbered tag. Glancing around the parking lot, he began his lackluster search of registration plates, ignoring his friend's almost child-like mannerisms.
Determining the car they'd be loaned to return to Angel Grove wasn't before him, Farkas began in his heavy stride once more, pacing toward the corner of the abandoned school. To Farkas' surprise, there was a complete lack of security outside the building, with even an absence of guards stationed at the entrance and exits. It was unnervingly quiet. The dark night sky was all the more lonely in this place; a feeling not owed singly to the lifeless location, but to the spot inside of him that regretted handing over Jason and Kimberly earlier that day.
What the hell had happened to those two- to the others- Farkas wasn't sure, but he guessed the night wouldn't bring with it any more answers. They were the delivery boys. They'd surrendered the goods, and were now being told to leave.
All they got was a "thanks" from some costumed big-shots that weren't even man enough to shake their hands.
Not to mention, what were those looks from their former classmates? The power rangers. Why weren't they doing more, going back to Angel Grove and actually finishing their job? Why were they choosing to stand around in some run-down former high school as though they'd never been touched with extraordinary powers in their lives?
"Maybe they gave you the wrong key?" Eugene suggested, as Farkas continued up ahead.
Farkas didn't slow. He followed the towering walls of the main building, noticing more unmarked vehicles parked along the fence. The night's blanket showered them more so, as a lack of lights gave way to the solitary hour, breaking only as shadows uncharacteristically shuffled ahead.
Farkas grabbed onto his belt, quickening his pace, opening his mouth to call out-.
"Don't!" A familiar face jumped out from the camouflage of the wall, throwing his hands up before him. "It's just us!"
Farkas squeezed his holster unnervingly, glancing sideways at Eugene, before looking back at Billy Cranston.
"What are you doing, standing out here alone in the dark?" Farkas asked him, his gaze zipping over the other man's shoulders as he heard further movement elsewhere.
Billy didn't respond, his glazed eyes instead settling somewhere randomly. "Did they ask you both to leave?" he asked instead, his voice remaining in a numb whisper.
Farkas frowned a little and nodded. "We were handed our marching orders...I'll take a stab at it and guess where not in the same league as others here."
Billy shuffled uncomfortably "Can I ask why you brought Kimberly and Jason here?"
Random. Was the former gifted student even listening to anything Farkas was saying?
"Some government worker found us stuck on the 405 and told us the president wanted to see them," Eugene went right into his explanation. "All though, Jason...he really didn't want to go, but they were pretty messed up from fighting those creatures or something."
Billy sighed lengthily, running a hand over his hair, before he looked Farkas directly in the eyes. "I need you both to help us," his voice cracked, his features unbearably strained, before he motioned with a slight flick of his head. "We all do..."
Farkas glanced over Billy's shoulder, watching in confusion as three forms stepped out from the shadows up ahead, their faces bleeding with mirrored despair.
"How do you want us to help you exactly?" Farkas asked Billy. "Where are Tommy and the others?"
"Katherine, Kimberly, Jason and I are the only ones left here. The others have made their break for it..." he shook his head, as though he were having trouble speaking. "We need to get as far away from here as possible and as close to the Theodore hills as we can manage."
Eugene began to voice his confusion immediately. "Why would you want to go there, there's nothing even-."
Farkas shot a hand out in front of his friend, looking back at Billy. "Are you going to explain to us why you're running away?" he asked the man gently.
Billy's eyes remained steeled, as Katherine stepped up beside him, Jason and Kimberly remaining a step or so behind. As Billy went to speak, noise was heard from elsewhere- from inside the building somewhere, all though it wasn't clear. The sounds were muffled and inconsistent.
They drew a panic from Kimberly, who turned sharply, falling into a heap on the tarred surface, whimpering out loud. Jason didn't move a muscle. Billy responded quickly and hurried over to help the young woman up, holding onto her tenderly, before he looked Farkas dead in the eyes.
"We need to go before anyone sees us here."
Farkas nodded quickly, pacing over to the cars parked nearby, scouring their number plates for the one that matched the combination inscribed on his key. Locating the right vehicle, he hurried to unlock the doors, flagging his arm about wildly for them to follow.
Katherine and Eugene assisted Kimberly, while Billy struggled to get Jason to follow. They all moved painfully. Farkas could hear the pattering of something in the distance, but he pushed it away and climbed into the driver's seat, waiting as Billy, Katherine, Jason and Kimberly squished into the back seat.
He turned over the engine. "Does anyone know where we are, exactly?" he asked, looking over to Eugene, and then back at Billy.
"I believe this was the former Leeton high school campus, but I'm unfamiliar with the most discreet route from here..." Billy started, his sentence trailing off as Kimberly let out a random, harrowing moan and proceeded to knock her forehead on the window beside her.
"Billy, stop her!" Katherine quickly pleaded.
"Just drive, Bulk!" Billy let out sharply. "Now!"
They had entered the part of the race- the run for their lives – where everything around them died to slow motion.
Tommy was pushing through the pain flaring in his legs, as he stumbled after his teammates, watching the scenery around them transform with every frantic step. The contrast between the looming inferno and the night's canopy above was surreal, and as they ran and ran and ran, the variance became so strong that it was dizzying.
Where they were running to, Tommy didn't know.
The sounds of the threatening helicopters were obliterated by the fire's storm, and as Tommy watched Rocky grab hold of the perimeter fence of the facility, it almost became too much.
"Quick! There's a break in the fence down here!" Rocky yelled at the top of his lungs, pulling on Aisha to follow his lead.
Tommy moved after Adam, feeling the jagged metal of the fence pull and claw at his shirt as he squeezed through the hole. Falling out onto the dirt at the other side, he could only remain on his knees, staring out into the fire's open mouth with tears and sweat flushing from his skin.
Adam grabbed onto Aisha, holding her into him as though his single embrace could protect her from what they'd stumbled into.
Rocky was running about sporadically, clearly in desperate search for where to push on to next- so they could keep going. Keep running. So they could live. So they wouldn't find them. So they wouldn't die.
Tommy could only watch him for so long, before he numbly straightened his shaking knees to standing. "Rocky!" he shouted out. "Rocky, stop!"
The former red ranger spun around, the skin of his face red- his eyes ablaze with ferocity. "We need to keep moving!" Rocky started pacing toward him.
Tommy looked at the wide, high-sweeping netherworld before them, knowing it was pointless.
There was nowhere else to run.
Aisha began to cough, and turned sharply, her face twisted painfully. "Tommy, there's nowhere else to go!" she cried- almost crying, pulling free from Adam.
Tommy covered his face with his dirty palms. "I know..." he looked up, looking at each of them with defeat. "I'm sorry," was all he could say, but he doubted the sound came out. "I shouldn't have...made you follow my lead."
Rocky shook his head viciously. "We are not going back to them, do you hear me? I will jump in that fire alive before I let them touch us again!"
Adam looked as though he were struggling to breathe and find the words to speak. "We could try climbing back out of the fence, finding a way around...it's dark, we could use the heavy foliage as camouflage until daybreak."
Rocky shook his head swiftly. "We can't risk them getting us-."
"And so what, Rocky?" Adam snapped back, stalking over to him and inching toward his face. "What, huh? We should all be brave like you and burn ourselves alive? It doesn't matter that we've fought this far- that some of us have a life that we don't want to give up!"
Rocky grabbed hold of Adam's shirt and jerked him hard. Tommy moved to intervene, but Adam pushed out a free hand before lowering his head. Breathing heavily, he stared back at Rocky, and then to Tommy, regathering himself as Rocky struggled to find his own composure.
Aisha looked over at the three men with the softest set of eyes, visibly crying before she managed to raise her tired arm toward the fence. "Please..." she trembled, eyes squeezing shut, and then reopening. "I don't want to die like this."
Tommy knew that she was right, and perhaps it was the realization looming on him at that moment, that was what he didn't see back in Seréshis. To want to live at any cost was human nature; to not want to experience pain, to not want to let go of your grip on existence. But when was the cost of that effort so great that it turned on you and took away the one thing you were fighting for from the start?
"Come on!" Tommy decided, motioning for them to follow him back toward the gaping hole in the tall barricade.
Tommy waited until he was sure they were following, and quickened his pace, reaching out for the tightly crossed wire. Grabbing on and lifting his legs over, he was only half way out, when unknown sets' of eyes locked in on him from the other side. Their faces responded in urgency and bodies leapt out from within the foliage, calling out to him.
"Thomas Oliver!" one of the men yelled out.
Aisha shrieked loudly and Tommy instinctively pushed himself back inside the boundary fence, scrambling backwards into his friends. They huddled tightly into each other, stepping back numbly as they watched the small group of government agents proceed to follow them into the fenced-off inferno.
The fire's roar from only a short distance behind was all Tommy could hear. His whole body was shaking, despite the unbearable temperature lapping his skin. Clinging onto Aisha and Adam, they continued to step back until their backs came up against the fire's barricade.
They were cornered.
"Why are you chasing us like this?" Tommy suddenly yelled out, as he watched the five agents struggle to find their footing and composures in light of the heat's brutality.
"Rangers!" one of the men managed to bark back, shielding his eyes with the length of his arm. "Where is the rest of your team?"
Tommy frowned, taken off guard by the question. "Why are you chasing us down like this?" he yelled back.
Aisha dropped like a stone, slumping to her knees, the scene too overwhelming. Tommy was too afraid to remove his cautious eyes from the agents and didn't console her, despite his automatic urge to do so.
"You're looking for the rest of our team?" Rocky abruptly spat out, gesturing wildly. "They're dead! They burnt to death and if you want to stand around here chatting about like we're all old buddies, then we can all add ourselves to the list!"
Tommy's heart was pounding. He chose not to contradict Rocky's lie.
"We've been ordered to take you back to the president's camp…for you own safety!" the agent yelled back.
One of the agents removed a gun from their holster, and raised it toward them. Light from the fire reflected and danced across the man's chest, highlighting the emblem on his jacket as clear as day.
"Who put in this request?" Tommy demanded, his gut turning.
"These orders came directly from President Holsworthy! He's asked us to take you back to his temporary base in Sunchester for your own protection!"
Tommy's eyes instantly darkened. It was a lie. The president's camp was established in Leeton, not Sunchester…and why would the president want them to return to base, after he all ready agreed with Tommy to let them leave?
Not wanting to turn his head, Tommy's eyes slipped over to Rocky, the fear contorting his features. "It's a lie...they're lying," his lips traced.
And like a wild animal, the harrowing roar blearing from his mouth, Tommy could only stare in a daze as Rocky exploded toward the agents in fury. Everything fell into slow motion again, as Tommy heard the aimed gun disperse and the disorientation overwhelmed him all over again...
The Presidential Temporary Camp
The sound of tapping was all too common, and yet in such a pressing time, it seemed to borderline on hyper-frequency, as though the incessant sound never ceased.
President Holsworthy felt tempted to raise his hand from the desk before him and turn the visitor away, but instead he sighed resignedly and called out for them to enter.
"Gerald," Anthony Horner greeted evenly, stepping only a short distance into the makeshift office. "I come with news."
The president looked down at the papers before him, before he signaled the security guard posted at his side to turn down the nearby radio blaring news direct from Angel Grove.
"No new sightings of aliens, I hope?" he queried flatly.
His old friend and trusted staff member shook his head, his eyes glazing over with a deep confusion. "I am uncertain if it is due only to the extreme conditions, but we've lost all communication with Johnson and the rangers…both radio and tracking signals are offline."
A frown befell Holsworthy's face, as he studied his comrade for a moment. Moving his lips, he was about to speak in turn as another figure appeared behind Anthony.
"I apologize for the interruption, Mr. President," the newly arrived visitor greeted. "But this cannot wait a moment longer."
President Holsworthy held back a sigh, as his eyes rested on the emblem on the man's jacket.
"How can I assist you…Mr..?"
"Cranston," the man offered up. "My name is Hank Cranston, IBI…I have something to show you…just here…" the man looked down, digging into the depths of his suit jacket, before suddenly pulling his hand out, a small but deadly object clutched between his skinny fingers.
Bodies were down before any could think to react. The president jumped up to full height as both his security guard and colleague dropped sharply to the ground, as the uniformed assailant leveled the silent weapon on Holsworthy himself.
No words made it out his open mouth, until a second individual stepped up beside Cranston. His face was more than just eerily familiar.
The president was staring at his own reflection…however it was possible, it was him, his own flesh, standing right before him.
"What is this?" the president gasped out, as the two men closed in on him.
"Don't worry, no one dies forever," Cranston stated, before he pulled the trigger and assassinated the President of the United States.
Aisha wasn't like Tommy- Her face had been anchored to the heated dirt below them, her eyes a blur with a panic not relieved by her own tears nor able to catch even the slightest glint of Rocky's outburst. By the time she had even realized their standoff with the looming agents had been so heavily disrupted, it had been too late.
Adam was down.
The noise became too much. Tommy was barking at her to stay down! Stay down!
"Adam!" Aisha cried out, as the violent confrontation erupted just a hand's reach away. "Adam!"
Keeping her body low, she reached her fallen friend's side, and scooped a cradled hand under his head. Her eyesight was a mess as it traveled feverishly over his body, searching for the bullet wound.
His eyes slowly opened and she almost smiled, a tear slipping from her cheek and falling to his below her. "I'm okay," he wheezed, wincing heavily; doing the bravely act. "It's just my arm..." his voice trailed off and Aisha frowned, rushing her attention to his limply rested limb.
The blood was intensely red.
"Run, Aisha," he started to say, as she slowly, almost uselessly attempted to help him sit.
Another gunshot sounded and Aisha jumped up, spinning around in time as a body almost collided into her and Adam. The momentum continued to propel the IBI agent forward, a dreadful scream tearing through the sound of the fire as he fell into the flames.
Aisha's first instinct was to help the man, but Tommy's tight grip latched onto her arms from behind, pulling her away. The agent continued to howl disturbingly, as the flames overtook him unmercifully.
Tommy let her go and barreled for one of the other agents, collecting them in a heavy tackle. Aisha swallowed heavily and carefully crouched down to Adam's height as Tommy swung a heavy fist into the agent's face, succinctly followed by another with his other hand; then another, and another, until from somewhere, Rocky called out.
But he was nowhere to be seen.
"Rocky!" Aisha called back, standing up, surprised by how quickly Adam managed to follow her. "Where are you?"
Tommy scrambled off top of his bloodied victim, latching onto the helpless agent's weapon. He stood and aimed it at the man's head, his arm trembling; his lip shaking.
Aisha didn't want to watch; but then again, Tommy couldn't pull the trigger.
Screams and more yelling were heard. The three friends huddled together, as Rocky came back into view, running for them so close to the fire's edge that the flames were literally cascading above him. At his heels was one of the other agents, his face a mess with smudges of blood, scrapes and dirt.
Blood was on Rocky's hands.
"Rocky, behind you!" Adam called out, starting for him, before Tommy could stop him.
Rocky lost his concentration at his friend's call of warning, and tripped, landing heavily forward. Adam continued onwards, just dodging another bullet, before 'slam!'; he collided with the armed agent.
Aisha and Tommy ran for them.
Aisha grabbed onto Rocky, running her hands over his arm in a patting frenzy as tiny flames began to nuzzle at his suit jacket. Tommy dived right in to help Adam, who was visibly struggling to maintain an upper hand with his lagging strength.
"Guys, get out of the fire!" Aisha shrieked.
Tommy seemed to push Adam away, back into safety, but remained in danger himself, swapping fist after fist with what seemed to be the only remaining agent. Rocky pulled his jacket off and ran for their leader, grabbing a discarded gun from nearby and pointing it at their enemy.
"Tommy, move out of the way!" Rocky yelled desperately.
Aisha was struggling to remain standing, her legs trembling with the fear of watching Tommy lose control right before them. She had always been comforted by the strength of her teammates; of their reserved, yet dignified leader- but they weren't even really them anymore. What if what had kept them alive through so many perilous times in their old pasts, just didn't exist inside them anymore?
That was never a promise.
"Tommy!" Aisha's voice was sharp, minced amongst the crackling that encircled him, threatening to gnaw into his very skin.
Maybe this was how it was all supposed to end.
Rocky removed his jacket, pulled his shirt over his head and discarded it to the dirt, pushing the extra distance to Tommy. The bloodied agent below the white ranger was no longer fighting back, but yet Tommy couldn't see it, or most likely didn't care. The drive in his eyes was propelling him to gain vengeance on whomever he could grasp and he resisted Rocky's advances for a good thirty seconds or so, leaving the former red ranger with no choice but to use force.
"Tommy!" Rocky spat out, pulling at his friend roughly, "He's dead, all right! He's dead, come on, forget about it!"
Tommy finally pulled away listlessly and the two men limped hurriedly toward Adam and Aisha.
"Adam's been shot!" Aisha couldn't help but cry out, as Tommy fell to the dirt nearby.
"Aisha! I need your help!" Rocky motioned feverishly to her.
Staying low, Aisha hurried after Rocky, pausing a short distance away as he crouched over one of the dead agents. "Pick him up by the legs," Rocky asked her, as he carelessly grabbed the body by its arms.
"Aisha, for God's sake, come on!" he urged her and she hurried at his tone, grabbing the bloodied body's arms.
"What are we doing with him?" she asked, as she struggled as the weakest half of their balancing act.
Rocky continued to drag the man by his arms, heading directly for the fire's edge. "We need to dispose of all of them in the fire," he grunted, his own strength visibly wavering.
He motioned for her to lower the man's legs, before he rested his eyes on her. "When they come here…the media, the police…everyone…they need to think that not only we burnt to death here, but these assholes as well," he explained, before his eyes softened modestly. "They nearly killed us, Aisha…I'm sure they thought they had their reasons for trying to kill us, just as we had legitimate reasons for fighting back."
Aisha bit her lip and slowly nodded, before they rolled the agent's body into the hungry flames. They followed the same, tiring disposal with the remaining two bodies that weren't all ready a part of the fire's rage, before stumbling back toward their remaining friends.
Tommy was hunched over, facing away from them and Aisha's eyes widened in gradual horror as they came closer to him. He was burnt. Not fatally, not even to an extent where it would incapacitate him, but the patches up his arms looked so horridly painful. Adam was busy tightening a tourniquet around his wounded arm, using his free hand and teeth to do the job.
Everything was in slow motion. Literally. That's how ruined Aisha felt.
"We need to keep going," Tommy wheezed out, his forced words of motivation breaking into a coughing fit.
They all nodded, but no one moved. Where were they supposed to go from there? The heat and smoke were almost at a point to where they couldn't even see each other anymore, let alone any sort of route to freedom. What if they ran blindly into the clutches of the IBI again?
"Tommy, come on, straighten up," Adam consoled the white ranger, resting his uninjured hand on his shoulder.
"I'm sorry, Aisha," Tommy murmured, as though he hadn't heard Adam speak at all. "I should have sent you with Billy…"
Aisha's stomach turned, just at the sound of Tommy's voice.
"Tommy, we are not giving up," she started, her voice trembling as she quickly kneeled before him, grabbing his face between her hands. "We have to keep fighting! We have a chance to be free..."
Tommy's eyes slowly traveled to meet hers, before he lowered his head and rested his forehead against hers. Waiting patiently for him to compose himself, she slowly moved her head back and kissed him on the forehead, before standing up before him.
Four sets of eyes exchanged glances, as though the destructive world around them didn't exist.
"Let's go and find somewhere in the bush to hide," Adam suggested, looking to Tommy for his support. "We can lay low until first light, and then make our way to one of the back roads, see if we can find ourselves an abandoned car."
Tommy nodded, before they gingerly began their way back to the hole in the fence, no one daring to speak as they crept outside the facility's high barrier. There was a lingering, disrupting noise in the distance, yet nothing that touched them with any urgency. Their movements were obliterated by the fire's roar; in Aisha's ears, her tender steps were muted by the pounding of her own heart.
And they would continue on their final escape until they found a temporary sanctuary, with little guarantee or thought on what they might face with the rising of the morning's sun.