Chapter 34: Epilogue: Existence is Everything
Report Dated 7th of February 2001
This is for my records, my own account of events which continue to become clearer and yet more obscure as time goes on. Much of what I know cannot be substantiated by any third parties or those that were responsible for causing them; it has been a painstaking process of theorizing over the scattered clues I discovered during our time incarcerated at the IBI facility in Angel Grove, as well as subsequent psychological and physiological examinations I have performed on my former teammates.
Billy let the end of the pen balance at the edge of the lined paper, his eyes sneaking upwards as a stream of fluorescent light cut through the sanctuary of his lamp's comfortable dimness. Katherine poked her head out of the bathroom, her hand clasped around the door frame and her eyes searching over them all.
"Tommy, there's still some hot water left if you want to have a shower," she mentioned, before a muffled voice filtered out from behind her, practically obliterated by the sound of noisy hot water pipes.
Katherine twisted her head around. "What was that?" Billy heard her ask Aisha, before she turned her attention back to the humid room overrun by her male counterparts. She sighed visibly. "Tommy, if you don't hurry, you might miss out; Aisha's just said that it feels like the pressure's dropping..."
From across the room, Tommy carefully lowered a set of hand weights to the ground, before running a hand across his sweaty brow.
"I want you to have one first, Kat; I can wait till tomorrow...or Saturday..."
A crooked smile settled on Katherine's face, but Rocky was quick to speak for her. "Her hair is wet, Tommy and she has a towel wrapped around her," he clarified dryly from the couch. "Get in there now, or else you can shack up with Adam tonight..."
Adam looked up from where he was lying on his stomach, lowering the newspaper in his hands. "You're the one who called shotgun on the double bed...I don't see why the rest of us should be punished because you're a greedy s.o.b," he reminded him lightly, causing both Tommy and Billy to snicker in unison.
Billy pulled his attention away from his friends' exchange, his mind quick to return to the purpose of the notebook before him:
What I have confirmed only a month after the above events took place, is that Tommy, Adam, Aisha, Rocky, Kat and I are indeed clones, a concept which has taken a substantial amount of time for us to accept. As seen at the facility on other alleged 'clones', I have been successful in locating unique identification tags on each of us- a primary indication that we have all, at some stage, been tagged by the IBI. Further investigations on this theory revealed that none of us could report any substantial health issues since 1997, either being serious in nature, or less complex such as the common cold or flu. This supports my original theory that we were created with a technique that served to eliminate our potential to succumb to a range of human ailments. I have been unable to investigate the benefits this may offer us; I am unable to determine if this may extend our life expectancy, or whether other, unknown side-effects from being cloned, may counter such advantages. While it is evident that my teammates are all suffering varying degrees of psychological trauma, including sleep disturbances and mood swings, I have determined that as of this date, all are in satisfactory physical condition.
Billy paused, his automatic words pulling up at a mental barricade as he pondered the next paragraph that he would write. His eyes trickled up discreetly, noticing both of them sitting on one of the single beds, obviously immersed at whatever pointless program was showing on the television.
I have spent considerable time examining Jason and Kimberly and have determined without doubt that neither is a clone. Neither bears identification tags on any part of their bodies that indicate they belong to the cloning project. Both carry scars and other inflictions on their bodies from prior to the final battle in Seréshis. Initial examinations on both Jason and Kimberly showed that both were severely malnourished, all though given the length of their confinement one can only assume that they were fed over time, rather than abstained from food all together. I am unclear as to the cause, but neither seemed able to engage verbally with myself or the others. Their behavior could only be described as belonging to someone who had never been part of the living, social world with an absence of very basic social and motor skills. Both showed signs of physical injuries which had not been attended to and therefore had not healed correctly. And most notably, neither Jason nor Kimberly could verbalize what took place at the facility during the years they were held there.
Billy rushed to complete his sentence, dropping his pen down in time as one of his oldest friends lowered down into the opposite chair. The table they were at wobbled as Billy rested his elbows on its matte surface, and he leaned down to readjust the folded cardboard that was serving as a means to level the desk's uneven legs.
"What are you writing?"
Billy unconsciously shielded the pad of paper, smiling tightly. It was a positive sign that Jason recalled his name without any form of prompting. "I'm writing down plans on where we should go, next," he lied, watching for the reaction in his eyes.
Jason's face moved thoughtfully. Billy could almost see the man think behind his dark gaze, his chin falling onto the ledge of his hand as he pondered and tried his best to comprehend Billy's response.
"Does that mean we're not staying here?" he finally asked with a slight slur.
Billy nodded gently, thinking his choice of vocabulary over carefully. "We can't stay here for too long, Jason...we need to find somewhere permanent to live. Somewhere...where we can all be safe and happy," he explained.
"We're not safe here?" Jason questioned, frowning.
"We'll be fine," Billy tried to assure him. "But I think we would all prefer if we had our own rooms to sleep in, don't you?" his eyes gestured over to the nearby bed. "Wouldn't you prefer it if you didn't have to share such a small bed with Kimberly?"
Jason flicked a brief gaze over to the petite brunette before shrugging indifferently. Billy wasn't surprised by his friend's impartial response, given all he'd observed of the more psychologically damaged pair since they'd arrived over the border of Mexico. He doubted there were any sexual connotations in his reply, but more so a confirmation of Jason's etched neediness of Kimberly's close presence, and likewise, hers of his.
"You can keep writing," Jason finally permitted him, leaning back in his chair. "I can just watch you."
Billy wasn't particularly comfortable at the thought of continuing his report in front of Jason, but given that he knew the original red ranger was still unable to read higher than a grade three level, he nodded with thanks and returned his attention back to his account:
Despite these initial predicaments and observations, both have shown substantial improvements in all areas over the last month- both are able to converse with us, all though their vocabularies are restricted at times to what you would expect from an elementary-aged child. Both have severely fragmented short-term memory capacity, and forget names, including their own, on waking most days. I have so far limited discussions of what took place at the facility in their presence to aid in their emotional healing; it troubles me to observe how clearly psychologically impaired they are. Kimberly displays a strong, evident fear of water whereby she becomes physically inconsolable in its presence. Given the treatment I myself experienced at the facility whereby members of staff hosed us down with icy-cold water, her fear can be understood. Jason displays a tendency for violence, however he has not acted out toward us, but more so to himself-.
Billy's head flew up, as Kimberly's sudden outcry turned into an almost growl, her terrified body backed so far against the wall behind her that she looked almost painfully curled up.
Tommy's shirtless body leaned over the bed, reaching to grab her around the ankles. "Kim-."
"I don't want to!" she pleaded, her eyes widening with haunting terror as she kicked back at him slightly. "Please don't!"
Billy remained still, watching as Jason was quick to respond to Kimberly's distress, moving over to wordlessly console her much to Tommy's obvious frustration.
It had been this way every time they had tried to get Kimberly into the shower.
"Jason," Tommy started, valiantly finding his inner calm as he interrupted the pair. "Kimberly needs to have a wash, it will make her feel better."
Katherine ventured out of the bathroom, her lean frame draped in an unflattering shirt and oversized shorts. "Is everything okay?"
Kimberly finally relaxed somewhat, looking at everyone in the room with an almost shame. "I don't want to shower in cold water," she told them.
Tommy sighed gently, sitting down on the edge of the bed before her. "It's not cold, I promise you. We've done this before, Kim; remember the other night? If you don't want a shower, you can have a bath...but you'll feel much better, either way," he tried to pursued her, moving to rest a hand briefly against her forehead. "You feel hot."
"I don't want a cold shower," she whispered to him.
Tommy's eyes remained subdued on his high school sweetheart. "It's okay...I'm sorry I upset you, okay?"
The hazel centers of her eyes softened, her trust in him evident as she very carefully took his hand.
They both appear to understand our relationship with them now, Billy returned to his report, however have been unable to recall our pasts together. They seem to be suffering from a combination of Anterograde and Retrograde amnesia disorders, all though I do not know how permanent these conditions will be. My theory is they are are result from the cloning project whereby laboratory technicians implemented an unknown technique of transferring memories from the original subjects to subsequent replicas. I can only assume that this practice has somehow 'stripped' Jason and Kimberly of these memories, given the number of times they would have undergone the cloning process.
It is my deepest hope that I can one day soon commence talking with both of them about their experiences at the IBI facility. I have no doubt that their recollections could serve to answer many of the questions that remain unanswered.
The most important of these remains the fate of Trini and Zack. In my heart; in what I know, I do believe that both are dead and perished in the IBI inferno, if they were not all ready direct victims at the hands of the IBI. It is a burden of regret that I cannot escape, no matter the reasonings to do so- I know that we all share this same sense of guilt. It is also my aim to ask Jason and Kimberly if they can recall witnessing any of Zordon's movements by the organization. Despite knowing that he could have only been destroyed in the fire, it is difficult for me to shake his presence which somehow remains with us all..
Billy held the pen momentarily too long at the full stop, causing a blob of blue ink to pool, bleeding slightly through the paper's thin veins. The cause to linger was the very thought of Zordon, and he was all too conscious of this. The reminder of his mentor, the being who in so many ways brought them all together, made him look around the cramped hotel room to reassure himself. Every minute, every hour; he had to know that they would be okay and would make it through whatever faced them ahead.
He sighed as he heard slight commotion from direction of the tiny bathroom. He watched as Rocky reluctantly lowered his beer to the dirty floor and stood up from the couch, stalking over to knock on the slightly ajar door.
"You guys sound like you're murdering someone in there," he warned them through the door.
"Maybe we should just let Kimberly rest for tonight? She's had a big day and scaring her like this is not going to help earn her trust, or Jason's," Adam reasoned quietly.
"We have to keep trying, Adam," Rocky countered calmly. "If she could only remember what happened the day before hand, we wouldn't have to keep traumatizing her every single day."
Billy wasn't sure what the answer was, but decided to double-check on the state of affairs. Stopping beside Rocky, they both stepped back as Aisha and Tommy slid out through the door one after the other.
"Is everything okay in there?" Billy asked them quietly.
Aisha lowered the towel from her thick hair, long, jet-black strands falling into waves around her flushed skin. "Kim freaked at first, but I think they'll be okay," she assured him, as she commenced changing awkwardly beneath the cover of her towel. "She's getting better, you guys."
Rocky didn't look so convinced, but was satisfied enough to relax back on the couch. "Every time I think of how those assholes put their hands on her-."
"Rocky, take it easy, man," Tommy reasoned, lowering in the chair beside him. He took a swig of Rocky's drink. "Aisha's right when she says that they're both improving. We should be able to at least leave Cuentepec in the next month or so...two weeks ago, it was looking like we we're gonna be stuck here a lot longer."
Billy remained beside the bathroom door, taking a quiet breath as he discreetly pushed it open enough to sneak a look inside. His curious eye caught Katherine's attention on the other side, and she quietly walked up to him, keeping the door between them.
"I was just making sure everything is okay," he admitted.
She nodded pleasantly, her newly colored hair sitting in auburn contrast to her porcelain-like cheek. "Jason's in the shower with Kim now," she revealed, her lips thinning at the end of her admission. "I know you would prefer to have them separate, but-."
"It's okay," he assured her honestly. As much he had explained to his teammates that having Jason and Kimberly adjust to life as normal adults was a priority, it wasn't above the precedence of their comfort. "They need to feel safe...we all do."
Her beautiful eyes lowered a touch, before meeting his with a fiery intensity. "Sometimes it's so hard to forget where we've come from," she whispered, her hand creeping to the door, where Billy met it with his own.
It had been difficult to remain strong, and yet with Katherine, he had found himself falling with her, indulging each other's fears during private moments like these. But just as quickly as the temptation took hold of him to look back, he would think about his father and the smell of blood was enough to deter him away.
Katherine saw the memory weep from his anchored gaze now, but as her lips moved to speak with comfort, the bathroom's pipes fell to a deathly silence and Billy caught an accidental glance of Jason pulling across the shower's curtain. Katherine spun around to attend to her friends, and Billy watched for a moment longer, just to make sure everything was okay.
Kimberly wasn't crying, but remained stagnant in her wet undergarments, as Katherine fetched her a towel and Jason grabbed one for himself. It was promising to see, at least, that both were showing improvements in comprehending just how much the rest of them cared for their wellbeing. Even more striking to Billy, however, was their physical healing which seemed far too advanced; even now, he was reminded of this as he noticed how clear and supple their skin was.
Returning to his desk, he picked up his pen and wrote:
The questions over powers- of the extraterrestrial and potentially human-made varieties remain the area where I still have very little understanding. In regards to the ranger powers bestowed onto our former selves, their fate remains unknown and it is still my belief that had the events on Seréshis played out as originally believed, that we would have all gradually presented with degenerative affects from Zordon's powers. I can not be certain that had we been dealt this scenario, I would have been capable to alleviate our symptoms, or worse- prevent our deaths. All though I have found myself incapable of discussing the scenario with my friends, it cannot be denied that the cloning project may have indirectly secured our survival by giving each of us new bodies, with no afflictions from our former ones.
I don't know what this means for Jason and Kimberly, however. Even if their minds were stripped of memories, it is unlikely that the process of cloning them both would have eliminated the degenerative effects of their past ranger powers. In the primary clones of both, these affects were observed at their very worst; however it can not be substantiated if their glowing, lagging health and excretion of colored bodily fluids were caused primarily from being cloned directly from Kim and Jason, or if they were intensified or derived by a failure in the actual cloning process.
Both Adam and myself have closely monitored Jason and Kimberly for any signs of the same degeneration. Interestingly at this time, both seem to be depicting heightened ability to heal and overcome the considerable injuries obtained during their captivity. This seems to be beyond normal expectations, and if anything, I had predicted their physical recovery would be lengthly, but this has not been the case. We have, however, witnessed intermittent displays of unknown power retention- both of them have shown random flashing of light in the eyes. I hold concerns that this may be a symptom of future complications, but more importantly, the question remains as to where these power surges are coming from.
Billy looked up at the end of his paragraph, not bothering to shield his words as he felt Tommy lean over him from behind.
"You want anything to eat?" he asked extending a piece of bread to him.
Billy contemplated the offer, before gratefully accepting it, motioning for his friend to sit down beside him.
"What are you working on?" Tommy asked him with interest.
"I'm gathering and recording everything I've observed since leaving California," he explained, before he moved the notebook to the side, reaching over to grab another folder.
Raising the cover, he pushed the manila file in between he and the white ranger for easier viewing. Unfamiliar names jumped out at them both, matched up with faces that were more than just known.
Tristan Rider...Krystal Harvey...Jadon Rider...Kaitlin Collis...Aaron Walker...Randy Collis...Alisha Mathews...Barry Patton...
His hand secured around the first passport, its artificial feel enough to draw a silent sigh inside as he turned it around aimlessly with his fingers.
"Are you thinking what I'm thinking?"
Billy nodded, passing the fake form of identification to Tommy- to Tristan Rider. "It's time we take on our new identities and adjust accordingly to ensure as smooth a transition as possible," he confirmed quietly.
Tommy flipped open his new passport, sighing with resignation. "It's gonna be hard getting used to all these new names," he murmured, as he motioned to the other seven passports sitting before them.
Billy picked up his own passport, his eyes running over the name printed inside: Barry Patton...He'd chosen first names that were as close to their own as reasonable, but it didn't make it any easier to look at them.
"I agree it will be difficult for quite a few weeks...maybe even longer. But it is my belief, the sooner we get used to being these people, the easier it will be for us to handle the separation from our pasts," Billy pointed out gently. "If we can somehow believe that we are somebody else...that you are Tristan...that I am Barry...then there is nothing that we have lost. It's all a clean slate."
Tommy clasped Billy on the shoulder, before standing up. "Guys?" he summoned the rest of the group, as a freshly cleaned Kimberly and Jason exited the bathroom with Katherine.
Billy stood up beside their designated leader, smiling tightly as seven sets of eyes rested on him anxiously, knowingly, with fear and yet with hope.
"It's time to start moving on," Tommy began, his voice falling away as everyone in the room shifted. "It's been several weeks and I know we still have a long way to go, but we can't hold on any longer...it's time we take the next step and start working toward a new life, together as a family."
Nothing more needed to be said, really; not because the moment was some clichéd leader's speech, but because they had all discussed the looming confirmation and were expecting its arrival. Names were passed around to their designated owners, expressions fell broken, but there wasn't the same resistance or dramatics that would have arisen even a month earlier.
Lowering himself back into his chair, it only made sense that for Billy to take this step with the rest of them, he would have to close the chapter he was in. He was haunted by too much, his skull scoured by endless searching and he had to end it. They had no choice now, but to pretend that it never happened. That they were never a group of superheroes, never smelt, felt or known real death; that they had never lied without thinking, without meaning or without daily regret.
That they had never been anything but normal, simple faces that walked amongst all the others in the world; Untouched, uncompromised, unexceptional in every single way.
They had been reborn, not by choice, but by a miracle. Billy thought this last point over, as he pulled his notebook into the shadows of his torso and put pen to paper:
I still don't know why it is us to remain and what our purpose is from here. These will stay as questions that science will never be able to answer in full. All I know is that when the truth about who we are was revealed in the very depths of the IBI's death camp, our lives were never going to be the same again. All those years ago, Zordon taught us that strength is the essence of who we were as a team, but I'm not so sure that is the case anymore, at least not how our mentor intended it to be. We have been forced into an untimely compromise- We no longer serve as protectors of life, but as slaves to pure survival.
In the end, existence is everything.
Signed. Billy Cranston.
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