Chapter 32: All Things Collide
He was alive.
The sensation of awakening to a new sunrise should have been a joyous occasion, and yet as Adam lifted his head from the unyielding ground, he was immediately overwhelmed by a sense of vapid distress. The early morning's breath was so moist and biting, that even his bones felt cold. His mind was hazy.
He couldn't believe he fell asleep in the first place.
Swallowing heavily, he sat up, wincing suddenly as a sharp pain clambered up his injured arm, reminding Adam of everything that had taken place only hours earlier. Pushing his anguish aside, he stretched his other arm and gently shook Tommy's sleeping body, promptly pulling back as his friend rose in a spectacular, defensive manner.
Tommy winced on recognition, rubbing his eyes. "Damn, I fell asleep," he realized with a mumble, settling down into a seated position, as he looked over at Rocky and Aisha who were awkwardly slumped over each other in slumber.
Adam tried to offer him a look of comfort. "I must have fallen asleep, too," he shared, as though to ease the shame. He glanced around the picturesque jungle-like forest which surrounded and enclosed them, its silent beauty a far cry from the destructive inferno they had fled from to get there.
For a feigned, pleasant moment, Adam could almost forget the indescribable situation they had found themselves in.
He cringed again, shifting warily. "Do you think it's safe for us to keep going?" he asked Tommy.
Tommy appeared to be inspecting the burns to his forearms and nodded distractingly. "Any ideas on which direction we came from?"
Adam sent another sweeping gaze around the surrounding bushland. "I think I remember coming through the clearing up ahead," he shared, his tone heavy with doubt. "I can only guess that means we should be heading north?"
Tommy sighed, rolling his neck around. "I trust your judgment more than I do anyone else's right now," he admitted, avoiding his eyes for a moment. "Is your arm okay? I mean, do you need medical attention?"
Adam shook his head. "I'll be fine, the bullet missed the major arteries…it's just an infection that I'm worried about. I'll have to take a better look at it when we get to safety." He cocked his chin. "What about your burns?"
Tommy's face twisted slightly, but he was just as quick in retracting any show of pain. "It was my own fault…I," he sighed, his explanation not continuing any further and Adam was inwardly unsettled, not just by the white ranger's wounds, but more so by his listlessness.
"You saved us last night, Tommy…regardless of what you are feeling right now, you need to know that," Adam told him. "Without you there, Rocky and I would have gotten ourselves killed and Aisha would have been completely unprotected."
Tommy eyelids remained as shelters for his eyes, and Adam couldn't see his reaction. He sighed softly and moved onto his knees, gently squeezing Tommy's shoulder, before moving onto the task of waking Rocky and Aisha out of their strangely peaceful sleep. They both woke with a start and Adam was a little unprepared as Aisha's wide open eyes settled onto him and she moved succinctly to give him an embrace. He could feel her body tremble against his and he moved his uninjured arm around her for a moment's comfort, before gently slipping away.
Rocky seemed to curse under his breath, before attempting to spit out saliva that didn't produce.
"How long have we been asleep for?" Aisha asked with puffy eyes, as Adam helped her to standing.
"It's hard to say," he replied, looking down at his male teammates. "My guess would be a few hours or so."
"Now I know why I don't go camping," Rocky murmured dryly. He propped onto his knees and shuffled his way over to Tommy, leveling his face down before his. "You all right?"
Tommy finally looked up, exposing his tired, bloodshot eyes. "I'm okay…just thinking about Billy and Kat," he admitted.
Adam crossed his arms over his chest for unfounded warmth. "I'm sure they got away, Tommy," he tried to sound reassuring. He believed his own words. "And hopefully they had a lot less complications than we did."
"They did have a lot further than us to travel, though," Aisha pointed out.
Rocky clasped Tommy's hand, pulling him to standing. "Guys, Billy knows what he's doing," he reasoned. "He saved our asses enough in the past for us to believe that he wouldn't do anything but get the others out of the high-school safely."
"Rocky's right," Adam agreed, sharing a private look with his close friend. "But it's up to us now to get to the hut as soon as we can. I was just talking to Tommy, and we agree that north is where we want to start heading."
Rocky nodded. "Is everyone okay to walk?"
Aisha cringed, but threw them a tight smile that extended back to a grimace. "I wish I wouldn't have lost my shoes," she complained a little. "How do we know that the police or the IBI don't have all the roads from here blocked?"
"We don't," Tommy spoke up, surprising everyone with the calm edge in his voice. "We stay together and keep walking…on the first hint of people, we alter our course and we keep doing so until we find a way out of here."
"Pull up here," Billy instructed, watching as Farkas' eyes frowned questionably at him via the rear view mirror. As though to repeat his request nonverbally, Billy gestured with a nod of the head, and shifted forward a little as the vehicle slowed unsteadily over the uneven gravel surface.
As the engine died out, Billy swiftly twisted to unclip Kimberly's seatbelt, momentarily ignoring Farkas' questioning. Billy tried to offer some sort of consoling expression to his brunette childhood friend, but as the bulky officer repeated his question for a forth time, all the blue ranger could muster was a heavy, drawn out sigh.
"We're going," Billy twisted back around, motioning to Katherine. "Let's go."
"Wait, wait, wait," Farkas stared at them from the driver's seat. "You can't open the back doors from the inside, it's a security feature...so, before I let you out, do you want to explain to us what the hell is going on?"
Billy pursed his lips, staring at the two men with no words coming to his mind.
"Why didn't you ever tell anyone you were the power rangers?" Eugene suddenly asked up so randomly, that it would have been almost laughable had the circumstances been anything but.
"Do you think you would have picked on me less?" Billy countered half-heartedly, before sighing despondently. "We appreciate everything you have both done to help us, but this situation is far too confounding for me to try and clarify to you in the insufficient amount of time that we have spare."
"But you guys are in trouble," Farkas guessed. "Is there anything we can do to help you?"
Billy looked at Katherine, before he bit his lip. "We're going to go and we won't be coming back...nobody will see us again. We're dead to the rest of the world. Nobody else can ever know about this," he added, looking at both men with pleading eyes. "You can't tell anyone else about what happened last night, about running into us in the car park, about driving us away from the facility. Nothing."
Eugene's forehead creased, as he swallowed heavily. "But why are you all running away? You're heroes, you should be making it known to everyone."
"Then whatever you think is owed to us…whatever you think that we deserve, pay it back to us by keeping this secret for the rest of your lives," was all Billy could say. "Our lives are over, otherwise…" he barely spoke.
Farkas's head lowered slightly, before he turned around and exited the driver's side, moving around to open the back door on Billy's side. Billy carefully moved out, pulling on Kimberly as gently as possible to coax her movement.
The air outside was frosty. He felt a shiver claw up his spine and he moved to wrap an arm around Kimberly as he waited for Katherine and Jason to get out of the vehicle.
"Listen, how are you guys going to get anywhere when you don't have anything but the clothes on your backs?" Farkas asked Billy, as the two men stood face to face.
Katherine closed the car door, looking over at Billy as though to ask the same thing.
"We'll get by. We don't have a choice."
Farkas suddenly flinched, digging into his pocket before pulling out a mangled, worn leather wallet. He flipped it open and searched through it intensely.
"Here, take this," he mumbled, handing over a collection of wrinkled notes and what looked to be a few food vouchers and other bits and pieces.
Billy hesitated, before the officer sighed and pushed his hand near his. "Take it, okay? It's not much; I don't get paid until next week…it'll get you some gas, at least."
"Thanks," Billy replied gratefully. "Well, uh, we better go. Thanks for everything," he offered briefly, before turning around, motioning for Katherine and the others to follow his lead.
He didn't stop for Katherine to catch up, or to check if Jason and Kimberly were actually following him. He just walked his robotic pace, hearing Eugene call out his "goodbye". He wasn't sure why exactly, but he was terrified that if he stopped and looked back on where he had come from, he wouldn't be able to go through with what was ahead.
Weaving himself between trees and the silence of nature, Billy came to a sudden stop as a loud snap tore and echoed through the forest around him.
Grabbing his chest with his hand, he covered his blurred gaze with the other as he heard footsteps rush from behind.
"Billy?" Katherine's voice could be heard, before it sounded again. "Billy!"
It was just a broken twig beneath his foot, and yet it sounded like a gunshot.
"Billy, are you all right?" Katherine's hand crept to his shoulder, her body moving into his so they were eye-to-eye.
Billy cleared his throat. "I'm sorry, I just…." He shook his head at himself, looking over his shoulder at the two stumbling forms following them. "I couldn't prolong the moment for any longer without an overwhelming risk that I might not stay strong for you, Katherine."
Her crystal gaze lowered somewhat, as her head dropped to rest against his shoulder. He was expecting her to say something, but when nothing but the breeze and Kimberly and Jason's uneven footsteps could be heard, he moved his arms around her.
"We need to keep going, Kat," he coaxed with a gentle, but hoarse voice. "If I remember correctly, Tommy's uncle's hut is still a short walk."
He gently pried her back, leaving his steadying hands on her shoulders.
"I really hope the others are okay, Billy," she whispered emotionally, their eyes molding together with damaged hope.
The others were okay; all though, even after securing an abandoned vehicle on one of the back roads three hours into their trek, there was still very little for any of them to smile about. Especially after a static-driven news report filtered through the radio twenty-minutes earlier, confirming a bitter-sweet realization that none of them had been prepared for.
Rocky continued to drive the stolen car like a little child pretending to be a racing car driver. The vehicle was rattling over the unsealed road, turning and swerving with every minimal touch to the steering wheel. He was actually becoming a little motion sick from the wild ride; thank God the others had entrusted him to drive their runaway sedan or else he probably would have thrown up a ton of nothingness in the back seat by now.
He flicked a quick look at the rear view mirror, catching a glimpse of Adam's lifeless expression which was easily matched by Aisha's. No one had uttered an audible breath since they'd flogged the abandoned car from the side of the road and he thought from the silence they'd maybe fallen asleep, but both sets of eyes remained glued to their own windows.
Beside him, Tommy kept his head poised out the passenger side door, ignoring Rocky's discreet attempts to get him to talk.
Rocky tried clearing his throat and Tommy reluctantly looked at him.
"You okay?" Rocky asked him, shooting quick glances back and forth between the road and the white ranger.
Tommy shuffled uncomfortably in his seat, unnatural sweat visibly formed along his brow. "Yeah, man, I'm fine."
Rocky released the accelerator somewhat, settling the car into a more appropriate speed as they continued the ascent through the untouched bushland.
"Isn't your uncle's hut somewhere near here?" Adam pointed out.
Tommy nodded stiffly. "We should dump the car here and go the rest of the way on foot," he directed.
Rocky watched Aisha cringe deeply in the backseat at the idea, as he let the car roll slowly down in speed, bumping along to a staggered halt. The idea of walking or running again was so God-damn unappealing that even Rocky had to wonder if they should bother trying to cover their steps to such a degree. But alas, Rocky didn't want to rock the boat and by the way Tommy was wearing his face, he gaged it was one of those times where he was better off just keeping his mouth shut.
"Here, put your arm over my shoulder," Rocky approached Aisha, expecting for her to launch into her typical resistance. He'd seen the agonizing cuts and blisters on her bare soles and hated the thought of her struggling to keep up with them once again.
But surprisingly her face lit with relief, mouthing a 'thank you' as Adam stopped on her other side.
"Let me help, too," he offered, and the three childhood friends began a staggered motion after Tommy, following his knowing lead through the increasingly deepening jungle.
Rocky was looking for clues as they walked. A sign of previous life, of footsteps in the rusty-colored dirt below. Looking for another abandoned car. Looking for something- anything, to fuel his hope that the others were nearby. He knew it couldn't have been avoided, but the whole splitting up the team idea was beginning to shit him to no end. He swore the next time they were all reunited he'd never let any of them out of his sight, ever again.
Tommy paused up ahead and looked back at them, cocking his chin slightly. "It's just over here," he announced.
Rocky felt momentarily revitalized by the much needed revelation.
So did Aisha, it seemed. "Thank goodness," she murmured.
"I can't see any sign of the others being here," Adam noted.
Rocky refused to indulge that thought. "They might be lying low, trying to avoid any detection," he convinced himself, before they swung into a quicker gait, fueled by their increasing anxiousness.
It just became worse and worse as they caught up to Tommy and practically ran for the hut's front entrance, pulling to a clenched stop as they noticed the four figures huddled in the far corner.
Rocky could have cried.
Billy scampered to a standing, releasing a sleepy Katherine from his clutches as he caught Tommy in a surprise embrace. Rocky fell against the wooden wall nearby and tried to salvage his balance, glancing up in time to watch as relief turned from almost joy into emotional disillusion, coming to a head as Aisha clasped Katherine and the two women began to almost sob.
They were there, they'd made it. They were still alive, yet that was no longer a comfort as everyone's thoughts turned on them, reminding them of everything they'd lost in the process. And in the corner, two poignant reminders remained in an eerily unhinged state, staring back at them with haunted eyes.
Rocky looked back at his male friends as Katherine and Aisha finally released each other from their strangled clasps and Tommy's droopy eyes fell to the floor with defeat.
"Radio signal was up again this morning, we heard the early report on the way here...Star news reported that pending forensic investigation, it's believed that we all died at the facility along with an unknown number of police and IBI personnel and officers," Adam was the first to speak up, summoning them all in with his bleak tone. "Our plan worked- the world thinks we're dead."
Damn. The concept was too hard to deal with. They all looked at the wooden floor as though the emotion had clung to their eyelids, anchoring their gazes in the direction of discreet tears.
Billy clasped onto Tommy's shoulder, as he raised a clenched fist to his mouth, struggling to remain composed.
"We did the right thing," Rocky finally said, not realizing he'd spoken out loud.
Nobody argued or agreed. Rocky watched as Aisha walked over to him, lowering her head against his forearm. He couldn't move, not even to accommodate her under his arm and he merely stroked her hair absentmindedly as he felt her body release into a trembling sob against him.
"Hey..." Katherine walked over to them and gently took Aisha's face in her hands, trying her best to console her despite her own state.
From the far corner, the two odd ones out were still huddled together in a stale, empty state. They lingered in the corner of Rocky's view, teasing him with penetrating reminders of their grief…their blood…their death; Of the way he had been the one forced to dispose of Kimberly's murdered body into the inferno's pit…how he felt her blood still on his skin.
How he just couldn't believe that it was all over.
He felt Aisha's weight lift from his side as she looked at him, before staring over at the clones of Kimberly and Jason.
"It was wrong to bring them here with us," she said sadly, sound barely pushing the words through her labored breathing. "They're not them…how can we look at them and pretend?"
Billy stepped forward, his eyes unfocussed, as though he were struggling to see without his glasses. "Guys, there's something you need to know, something Kat and I discovered before we fled the high school with them…" he looked over at Katherine and Rocky frowned as an almost smile graced her shiny face.
Rocky sighed, frowning deeply. "What? That they can't speak?" he pointed out miserably. "Their staring is freaking me out."
Billy shook his head, his throat visibly moving as he swallowed. "I can't explain it all, and I can't even begin to comprehend it, but the clones of Jason and Kimberly aren't clones-."
"What?" Aisha rushed out, her face of horror and disbelief mirrored by Adam.
Rocky's face twisted.
Tommy's was blank.
Billy's expression was indescribable. "I located a scar on Kimberly's back, consistent with a scar she obtained in our early months of being rangers…both of them, both have freckles...sunspots...smaller scars-."
"It's impossible," Tommy whispered loudly, his eyes staring into empty space.
"It's the only thing I know from this conspiracy that is the truth," Billy continued, his face contorting. "This is the real Kimberly and Jason sitting here, right before us."
Billy's words flicked a switch inside Tommy that he hadn't know had existed within him, until memories of her and he swelled in his brain, shedding his skin and leaving him exposed.
Kimberly and Jason.
The tears terrorized the backs of Tommy's eyes as Aisha let out a strangled murmur, a desperate request for the original blue ranger to reconfirm his startling revelation. He could have told them over and over and over again and as much as hearing him say it twenty million times would have been a bitter-sweet melody to their ears, it did nothing but throw Tommy so off-balance, that he could hear and see nothing.
Nothing, but their empty faces staring back at him.
Adam was the first to speak up with clarity. "Billy, are you sure about this? What your saying is..."
Aisha let out a loud, shaky breath. "Truly amazing," she finished his sentence, looking over at Tommy.
Tommy could feel a hand on his shoulder, but he continued slowly toward Kimberly and Jason, feeling Billy's touch fall away with his movement.
"Man, if this is true-."
"It is true, Rocky," Tommy heard Billy cut the red ranger off. "There is no other explanation I am willing to consider that would be at all logical or fit within the very motives of the IBI and their project."
Tommy swallowed as he found himself only a foot away from Jason, and he slowly crouched down, his hand shaking as he stretched out to touch him.
"That means then that they had them locked up in that shit hole for five years," Rocky realized with poignant disgust. "What the fuck were they doing with them?"
"Experiments..." Billy stated the obvious. "I can't even begin to surmise what experimental processes they were both exposed to, but from what very little time I have had to observe them, it is clear that even though they didn't die on Seréshis, the IBI did all but kill them since..."
Billy's words evaporated into the stale light of the unlit cabin, as Tommy rested his shaking hand on Jason's shoulder. The image of his best friend; Of what remained of him, was as much of the cause of his trembling, as the cold.
"Jason?" Tommy whispered, pulling his hand back slightly as the other man seemed to jerk a little fearfully at his approach. "Jason...it's me...it's Tommy..."
"Does he recognize you?" Katherine's voice spoke up with hope, but Tommy shook his head numbly.
"It must be a result of the project," Billy explained, remaining still. "Hypothetically, the technique utilized in the transfer of individual cognitive sets to each succinct group of clones could have caused both Kimberly and Jason to be stripped of their memories, even their basic comprehension of the motor skills we all take for granted."
Tommy swallowed, his gaze tracing a line of sight from Jason to Kimberly, a horrible feeling swelling in his gut as he looked at her shivering form up close. Almost immediately, his mind flicked back to his confrontation with the clone of Kimberly at the IBI facility and it was as though he were experiencing it all over again. She was messed up, completely- utterly.
A living disgrace, not of herself or the woman that she was supposed to be, but of Tommy and his failures. That's all he saw before him.
And the guilt, that abusive shame ate at him so much, he forced himself to look away from her. There was nothing left inside of Tommy Oliver that believed that this was what had become of Kimberly Hart.
His teammates were amongst a hushed conversation, their voices cleverly directed elsewhere as they caught sight of him staring over his shoulder at them.
"It's not them," he decided coolly, his eyes struggling to look at them. "It can't be..."
Billy shuffled, stepping toward him, but Tommy put his arm out, as though willing him away.
"Don't- don't give me another run down on what those..." his face twisted, "monsters, did to them...we don't need our hopes pushed up by something that can't be true."
Katherine took a step forward, hugging her body tightly. "Tommy, Billy and I saw that scar with our own eyes-."
"You weren't even there when she got it, Kat," Tommy cut her off bitterly, grinding his teeth. "If we're gonna be so technical, none of us were...do you really think that the IBI would keep Jason and Kimberly alive for all these years? And if we're going to believe that theory, then where are Trini and Zack, Billy? They weren't even at Seréshis to die there."
"Tommy, I think you're missing the point of the project," Billy spoke up calmly. "Now I won't give you what you don't want, because as far as I'm concerned, I'm as much of a guilty party in this as the IBI was-."
"It's the truth, Aisha," Billy pushed her protest aside, as his voice trailed into misery. "There is no glory in what I know. There was never a moment while we were rangers where I felt empowered by truths I chose not to share with you all. Kimberly, Jason, Zack and Trini paid the ultimate price for my choices- ones I made because I was trying to protect you all in the only way I knew how."
"You shouldn't have chosen to take that burden onto yourself, Billy," Adam spoke up with surprising emotion. "I don't understand how it came to a point where we each felt we had something to prove to each other, when all Zordon ever wanted from us was to remain united."
Tommy looked at the wood floor boards. "No, Billy, it wasn't your fault," he looked up. "It was mine."
"It was no one’s fault," Rocky disagreed. "Billy, you had everything thrown on you- even after every battle was done, you never had a break from it; Tommy, you're a leader, and yeah, you both stuffed up somewhere along the line, but we've all fucked up at some point or another...this is pointless self-pity at a moment when we don't have time for it. We're on our own, guys...whatever we did before, it doesn't matter, because we're not those people..those mistakes we made, aren't our mistakes."
Aisha stepped up beside Rocky, taking his hand in hers as though to absorb his inner steel. "Rocky's right. They may have made us as clones, but we have done nothing but achieve just as wonderful things on our own merits. As our own selves. We made it to here through all of this, because of who we are inside," she swallowed, her bottom lip trembling. "If that really is Kim and Jason...then we've found my best friend and I can't begin to express what that means to me," her voice cracked, as she looked at the white ranger. "What that would mean for you, Tommy."
Tommy sniffed, struggling with his composure. "What would that mean for me, Aisha?" he asked softly, blinking away a stubborn tear.
Surprising everyone, Katherine spoke up in her place. "It would mean that the decisions you made after Kimberly and Jason were abducted by Zedd, the hard choices you made despite our protests and mistrust in them, were all right in the end, Tommy. You saved them...that's all we ever wanted and I know they've paid a price for this, but the cost could have been so much worse..."
Tommy couldn't absorb Katherine's liquid gaze, his face falling somewhere in between his crouched legs and his hands. Trying to stifle his release of emotion, he found himself almost choking, and pulled back with expected awkwardness as he felt a hand rest on his back.
He straightened up and looked over his shoulder, expecting to find Billy or Katherine or anyone else there staring back at him, but to his shock, he found the misplaced hand belonged to Kimberly.
"Kim?" her name slipped cautiously from his lips.
Her eyes didn't meet him, but her touch seemed to stir him beyond belief. It almost paralyzed him, and he could stand it taking his breath for only so long before he moved free from her and stumbled to his feet, turning around to stare at her.
"What's wrong?" Katherine asked him with concern, but Tommy refrained from a reply, instead walking back toward Kimberly, taking small, careful steps around her before slowing crouching down behind her.
He hesitated before undoing the top tie of the ratty hospital gown. Pulling it free, he let the loose ties fall free, sliding his fingers beneath the top of the fabric and ever so slowly peeled it from her upper back. As his action gradually exposed her nakedness below, an uncomfortable grimace sounded from his lips as he cast his eyes on the unnatural colors of her skin. He traced the unsightly lines of her malnourished torso with his finger, but it almost became too much as his fingertip located the mark.
Tommy's head fell against her shoulder, his hands unconsciously clinging the tops of her arms as whatever tears he hadn't already shed, wept to the realization that sung within him.