Title: "Comes the Darkness"
Chapter 1 of 5 in novel form.
Summary: Given an assignment concerning the national security of the United States, Tommy and Kimberly are forced against their will to work together undercover years after their breakup. Can they put aside their differences to uncover a plot that threatens humanity, all while denying what still lies between them? And what of their significant others?
Rated: R The story will contains adult language, graphic violence, torture, drug use, and sexual situations. Category: Drama Couples: Tommy/Kim, Tommy/Katherine, Jason/Kim, Jason/Katherine
Characters: All of the Rangers are around 24 to 27 years old here.
Timeline and Spoilers: Assumes general knowledge of both Power Rangers movies up until the end of the Space Rangers series. You won't need to know all the details. AU after the Space Rangers series. All is explained in the Authors Notes below.
Disclaimer: I won't make a dime from this series.
Email: Notes: These are details you need to know before reading this novel.
1. After the War of 2003 against Overlord Delex, due to a part mystical/part radioactive explosion, teleportation is no longer possible on Earth. The Rangers can no longer teleport in any way, shape, or form. Neither can any of their enemies. Teleportation on Earth is no longer possible.
2. All the Ranger powers are gone now. All of them. The current rangers have the Command Center and their technology, but there are no Power Coins, Zords, Morphing Grid or Morphers. The Rangers all take injections created by Billy and his team of scientists that taps genetically into their already altered bloodstream. They are all three times stronger, faster, and more agile than a normal human at the peak of his or her physical conditioning.
4. It's a new day and age in the world. The technology and magic of all the enemies that have ever attacked Earth has found it's way into the hands of various governments, regimes, scientists, organized crime syndicates, terrorist groups, and other organizations that have every intention to use those things for their own benefits. It's a dangerous world indeed.
5. Three years ago, due to the new dangers facing the planet, especially considering weapons not of this world were falling into the wrong hands, the United States Government now works the former rangers. Together, they have built an underground network of agents to seek out and eliminate these new threats to the safety of Earth. All twelve of Zordon's first Rangers were contacted and asked if they would like to become undercover Federal Agents. Some answered the call, some did not. For those that did, they are the last line of defense against the new threats to the free world.
6. There are no other Rangers on Earth at this time.
7. Trini passed away in a tragic car accident three years ago.
8. Nothing in Power Rangers Dino Thunder took place in this universe.
9: All else is explained in the story.
I speak in the tongues of men and of angels, but have not love, I am
only a resounding gong or a clanging cymbal. If I have the gift of
prophecy and can fathom all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have
a faith that can move mountains, but have not love, I am nothing. If I
give all I possess to the poor and surrender my body to the flames, but
have not love I gain nothing Love is patient, love is kind. It does not
envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It is not rude, it is not
self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs.
Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It always
protects, always trusts, always perseveres. Love never fails. But where
there are prophecies, they will cease; where there are tongues, they
will be stilled; where there is knowledge, it will pass away... And now
these things remain: faith, hope and love. But the greatest of these is
1 Corinthians 13:1-8, 13
Wickers Manufacturing Company
Monday, March 8, 2005 11:00 PM
Silver Cliff, Colorado
"You told them, didn't you?"
"No... I swear to God, I didn't say a word. I'm no snitch. Never have been and never will be." Blindfolded and beaten, his hands cuffed to a steel chain that descended from the roof, he's defiant in the face of death. Rusted machines and the musky stale scent of a condemned factory surrounded him. Soft footsteps circled as if a gentle soul were near by. Nothing could have been farther from the truth.
"Why is it that I don't believe you, John?" the eloquent sound of a leader with vision whispered in the ear of the man crouched on his knees, his clothes bloodied, arms extended above his head. "Why is it that the tremble in your voice causes me to doubt your loyalty?"
The blizzards still in town tonight, it's blustering winds rattling the factories old shutters. Snow on the buildings aged rooftop melted through the cracks, dripping droplets of moisture all around him. The minute splashes amplified due to his lack of sight. "Christopher, listen to me, please. You know me. You know my loyalty to the Darkness. I'm a sworn soldier for your cause. I did not betray you," John Keys frantically pleaded for his life, ignoring the flaring ache of his jaw. The severe beating he suffered thirty minutes ago came before even the first question was asked. Now, his only hope rested in the one element he knew Christopher Lockheed lacked. Mercy. "If I betrayed you, my family would be killed. I would never endanger them. Never! You know that."
Good and loyal men are hard to find in this day and age of greed and selfishness. John Keys, up until one hour ago had been a good and loyal man. He'd fought with his fists, his mind, and his heart for the Darkness. For the righteous cause. That made what needed to be done all the more difficult. One could not breed loyalty in ones men if betrayal within the group was not proven beyond a shadow of a doubt, and then dealt with accordingly. Christopher would see to that. "We have surveillance video of you talking to F.B.I Agent Jacqueline Saunders earlier today in the parking lot of a laundromat on Fillmoore and 75th street. You were both pretending to be loading your cars. We have the audio as well. The floor is open for you to explain your actions."
And with those revelations, the last of John Keys hope died. What cards had he left to play in this game of life and death? Hopelessness swelled within his chest. "My heart belongs to the Darkness." He screamed when his head was yanked by his hair backwards, a vicious wrenching pain all the way to his scalp.
"You know our ultimate victory is but months away, John. The world we envisioned is within our grasp, and yet you betray us to our enemies." Christopher spoke in the most subtle, violent tone of voice, low and sinister. A gentle brush of silver gray hair off his face left him before asking, "Why, my brother?"
At the end of your days, when all was lost, you had nothing less than what you lived for. John latched onto that for as long as he had left. His throat constricted as he struggled to breathe, he offered, "Because there's a difference between the true freedoms of our country, the ideals we uphold and it's way of life versus the massacre of a few billion innocent lives."
That ole Irish temper rising, Christopher's forehead creased in a scowling expression. "So you admit you betrayed us?"
"No. I admit I wanted another way to bring about our goals." Silence around him. Not even the footsteps to follow as he awaited the inevitable.
"This will cost you your life."
Cold and precise. Conviction amidst the end. "So be it."
Cobalt blue eyes slipped slowly shut as Christopher backed away, sighing his frustration. For thirteen years this man has fought by his side. For thirteen years he has called him brother. For thirteen years they've fought the good war for their country. And now, on the eve of a new day, his heart will suffer yet another loss. Wasn't Colin's death enough? No matter, as he shoved away those thoughts. To much is on the horizon. The 'Gathering' was only two months away, and then the real work would begin. "Allow me to paint a final picture for you. One that you will not live to see, but will hear and know to be true no matter your final resting place."
Dread filled John's soul until overflowing, leaving him a slumped defeated man on his knees.
"Agent Saunders has been neutralized permanently. You know our ways, John. Your betrayal saved no lives, whose sacrifice will ensure a world free of the atrocities and injustices so many have suffered. Better to lose a billion lives to a dream than to allow future billions a life under the iron heel of a tyrant. And that tyrant is the United States Government." The others in the room gave him their undivided attention. Charisma lived within his persona as he commanded respect with his sheer force of will. His large six foot three frame hovered over his captive. "The Darkness will reign over the world on doomsday. All nations will finally know peace. That is unavoidable. That is our destiny."
"There's always another way, Christopher."
"A young mans sentiment. One that matched my own three decades ago when I still hoped my country would not turn it's back on me. How cold the knife felt when it drove in my back." Hands gripping John's shoulders, Christopher faced him up close and personal. "I bled my blood for this country in a war I still can't fully explain. I paid my taxes and served the people. What did I, or you, or any of us receive for our trouble? Nothing. Zero. Less than that. And to that end radical change is needed. And that change is not always easy or kind, but necessary nonetheless."
"What you're planning will decimate most of the world."
"We have the means to rebuild, the will to see this out, and the heart to face death to succeed."
He's beyond mad. So focused he won't allow himself to see another way. John could no longer care for his own life. "Please... please don't hurt my family. Emily and the kids aren't a part of any decisions I made."
There was no joy in his response. Any joy that lived inside his 56 year old body died long ago. "On the contrary, John. Had you thought your betrayal through more clearly, you would have hidden them long before."
"... please ... please don't hurt them."
"They are dead, John." Spoken as if he were saying hello to a friend. Just that calm. "I had them killed as soon as we took you. Bullets to the back of their heads. Clean kills. A home invasion is what it will look like to the authorities. They did not suffer. Not the way you will."
Useless tears were all that he had left, fleeing his eyes in waves of utter despair. A soul of empty regrets. A pain so bone deep it knew no end. John sobbed on his knees. "They were innocent..."
"As we all are." With a gesture of his hand, two men poured the contents of canisters they hoisted off the floor over John's head, drowning him in the clear liquid as he begged for his life. "When you betrayed us, you played with fire. And when you play with fire," Christopher struck a match on his boot, igniting it, "You're bound to get burned." He flicked the match.
The last five seconds of John Key's life were filled with the sounds of the flames engulfing him whole, then his screams of agony as his flesh burned him alive, and then his ghastly death. He screamed no more.
"Brothers!" Christopher addressed the room in front of their fallen comrade, especially the dark haired Asian woman hidden in the shadows by the door with whom their new world would be created. "We are months away from a new beginning in the history of humanity. And nothing will stand in our way. The Darkness shall cover the Earth!"
"THE DARKNESS SHALL COVER THE EARTH!" chanted as one by the men as the body of John Keys burned in the background.
The Command Center
Friday, March 12, 2005 7:45 AM
Angel Grove, Ca
If it weren't for the coffee in her system, Kimberly Hart would probably have fallen asleep behind the wheel on her way to the Command Center. Caffeine's been her best friend for a while now, and this morning was no different.
That's just one of the many thoughts fluttering inside her mind as the elevator descended to the lower levels of the huge Command Center. With her detailed full report tucked inside the folder under her arm, she wanted to get this debriefing over with as soon as possible. She needed sleep in the worst way and her jet lag wasn't helping in the least.
Casual described her dress code this morning. The Rangers White House appointed Director of Operations, Ms. Janine Calister, wasn't much for fashion when it came to her operatives, thankfully. She'd be in and out of here in under an hour if things went her way. More than enough time to grab a few hours sleep before running a couple errands, and then to the market. Jason's coming over for dinner tonight. And maybe a bit more if the mood strikes.
'It' hasn't struck yet in the three months they've been casually dating so far. He's so different than the other men she's dated in recent years. Patient, though she expected no less. Sweet in a easy going sort of way. And it's been so long since anyone's touched her 'in that way'.
Maybe tonight is the night. With just a touch of a wicked smile, she pushed those thoughts aside.
The elevator doors slid open, revealing the emptiness of the vast, well-lit hallway leading to Janine Calisters private chambers. In less than an hour, nearly seventy workers, all government liaisons, information gatherers, military strategists, and C.I.A. operatives will fill the Command Center. Getting used to non-former Rangers walking these hallowed halls was just one of the things her and the former team had to adjust to.
At least they all still had their own floor of the Command Center to themselves.
Making her way down the long hall, she marveled at it's high ceiling, uber clean floor, and exotic silver and electric
blue walls. Such a contrast to the days of old, now heralding the new.
Renovations aside, Kimberly couldn't help but to think about the time off she's due after her latest successful mission. Adam, her partner on the mission, is already on a plane to Maryland due to a illness in his family. She wished him well an hour ago when their plane landed at Angel Grove International Airport, then hopped in her car to take care of this last piece of business.
She's due some time off. How to spend it was the only question.
Paris would be such a nice trip to take this time of year. Smiling to herself, the prospect of spending some time with her mother, whom she hasn't seen in eight long months, would be a great way to unwind after a very busy year. Taking a weekend at a spa, relaxing the whole day away with wine, massages, and facials. Then shopping and the Paris night life.
Not a bad idea at all. She could make plans and be on the next flight out tomorrow.
Her smile widened as she reached the immense entrance door at the end of the hall. Placing her palm on the wall DNA-Signature panel, the door opened and she walked inside.
When Billy and Alpha were contacted by the Government that they wanted a strike force/investigative team put together, they were informed that their first choice to head this new division was a senior member of the C.I.A, Ms. Janine Calister. The forty-five year old former chief of the F.B.I's West Coast Division was hand picked by the President himself for her background in training younger agents, ability to make the harsh decision if it was the right one, her experience in covert 'off the books' activities, as well as having lived on the West Coast all her life. She's had years to see first hand the Rangers work, and her perspective would be appreciated by them.
Upon entering the room, Kimberly noticed the hallway wasn't the only area renovated around here. The new office featured plush red carpeting beneath her feet, with gold framed oil paintings from around the world adorning the white walls, and twelve plush high-back leather chairs, along with a huge glass table made up the furniture in this impeccably decorated room. At the head of this table sat the very calm and elegant as always, Ms. Janine Calister. Her lovely olive skin complimented her Italian heritage, as did her long dark hair. 'The Boss,' as the former Rangers joked behind her back. "Welcome home, Ms. Hart."
Kim stretched her arms up over her head, yawning again. "Thanks, J."
Ever pushing the envelope of friendship versus the pecking order of leadership, Janine let that nickname go. Carefully manicured nails gleamed when Kimberly handed her the folder. "How was your flight?"
"Long and boring. At least I didn't see any gremlins on the wings," she replied with a grin. Janine's polite smile may have been small, but it was there and that was progress from the drill sergeant like approach she'd used when she first arrived. Kimberly suddenly turned serious as she took her seat. "My report will detail exactly what happened at the Westin Palace in Madrid, Spain."
"As I understand it, three hotel personnel were killed. Caught in the crossfire, I presume?"
Innocents dying on her watch always affected her. Even years later when the job was second nature. "They were in the wrong place at the wrong time. Viper took hostages in the basement of the hotel we tracked him to. He threatened to kill them if we didn't let him go. Adam and I had done our research on this guy. We knew his M.O. He was going to kill them anyway. We could not let Viper get away with those Sion Power Rods. With them, enough radiation could be generated to continuously produce nuclear power cells. A nuclear device would not have been out of the stretch of the imagination."
Emerald green eyes fixed on Kim above the folder. "Our intelligence had it that he was only in possession of one Sion Power Rod."
"Our intelligence was wrong." Janine knew that was part of the job at times. Kimberly continued, "After going over every possible scenario, Adam and I decided to storm the basement and take our chances. Viper would slaughter the local law enforcement officers. Bringing them into this would have wasted what window of opportunity we had. We had little time to contemplate other options and he was desperate. The lesser of the two evils was to take our chances. He had eleven hostages in all. We lost three." In private, she'll grieve them. But not now.
"The end justifies the means, Kimberly," Janine felt she had to point out. She's been in that exact same position before. "Though unfortunate, I'd rather live with three funerals than eleven. You and Adam made the right decision and did fine work according to our liaison in Madrid." There were times in which she felt the Rangers cared too deeply. A symptom she felt was due to having been recruited at such a young age by their deceased leader, Zordon.
"We did our jobs." These situations were never easy. Kimberly dealt in her own way, as all the former Rangers did. This was their duty. Sometimes it was heroic. Sometimes you just lived for another day.
"How are you, Kimberly?"
The tender, almost parental tone in her voice was appreciated. "Me? I'm tired, sleepy, and in desperate need of leave," she all but pleaded. Janine's poker face revealed nothing. "I need at least two weeks away. I haven't had any real leave time in seven months."
Ms. Calister's face, if one could decipher her well hidden thoughts, seemed to fall ever so slightly at her request. "I'm sorry to report, Kimberly, that I cannot grant your leave at this time. I need you on a new assignment A.S.A.P. One that is a matter of national security. Perhaps even bigger than that."
Having feared this, Kimberly sighed. "With all due respect," she began, hoping Janine would listen to reason. "I've been living out of hotels and suitcases for the last eight weeks. I've had three good nights sleep in that time. I'm not sure how much good I'll be to you out in the field. I'm exhausted and..."
"It cannot be avoided."
Every now and then your boss ended all talk. Janine's voice was stern, unwilling to compromise. Her words were final and if you didn't like them, the door's behind you. Brutal, such as their job required. Kimberly could only hope this would be a quick mission. She sat up straight, having accepted her fate. "Give me the details."
The room suddenly turned pitch black as the lights were switched off. A seventy-five inch four-sided monitor lowered from the ceiling and switched on.
"Two weeks ago authorities in Silver Cliff, Colorado were contacted by the F.B.I about three dead bodies it discovered." The screen switched to one still picture of a African-American woman lying in a fetal position, who appeared to be in her late seventies, dead in the woods. Her skin appeared dry and brittle, her eyes sunken in. "The first victim, Alicia Clarkson, age 22..."
"Excuse me?" Kimberly interrupted, now shocked by the image onscreen. "Age twenty-two?"
"Yes," Janine confirmed, noting the horror on Kim's face. "She was found this way after having been reported missing by her husband twenty-four hours before. She's works in the tax department of a local architecture firm. The coroners report verified via dental records that the body found was in fact Alicia Clarkson. The other two bodies were found three days after Alicia's."
"What else did the coroners report say?"
"What exactly killed her was inconclusive. Her internal organs," the monitor now displayed multiple colored photos of the autopsy, "Appeared as though they were burned from the inside out. Note the scarring, as if intense heat had been used. In addition, her blood contained chemicals components that could not be identified. Whatever killed her worked very fast, and was lethal."
"I get the feeling her death wasn't an accident."
Perceptive as always, Janine admired. "No, it wasn't. She was kidnapped, we surmise."
"What about the husband?"
"Not a suspect at this time. Not even close if reports are correct. Interviews with her family and friends painted a picture of a young, but very loving and honest couple." Kimberly nodded as she skimmed over the report. "Samples of her blood were flown here three days ago. Alpha can not identify the chemicals in her blood stream. They matched the other two victims as well. What was even more disturbing is that the unidentified chemicals are giving off mystical energy properties."
Kimberly went over the facts in her mind. Whatever killed these individuals is both chemical and mystical. A blend of some sort. Add in the fact that if even the Command Centers vast archive of references and chemical databases couldn't identify... Bad news with a capitol B. "Was there any connection at all between the victims?"
"Not between Alicia Clarkson and the other two. But Harold Miner, Caucasian male, age 54. And Fred Garnett, Caucasian male, age 48, were both members of a local anti-government militia called 'The Darkness.'"
"I haven't heard of them."
"They are a radical right-wing anti-government militia. They view themselves as Patriots who want to restore America to it's former glory. The want to overthrow the government and start over. They are racist, angry, violent, and growing in number. They're very dangerous, having been linked to at least twenty deaths and several bombings since 1988. The F.B.I has been keeping tabs on them for months now. It seems they are recruiting heavily for people with large amounts of cash. They've gone underground to do it. It seems that they are offering something some of these people must feel they can deliver on. What exactly, we don't know."
A compartment on top of the glass table opened with a folder inside. Kimberly took it, thumbing through the pages. Reports and surveillance photos on 'The Darkness' straight from the F.B.I. "You think they got a hold of some kind of hybrid weapon?"
"Hybrid virus, unfortunately. We also have reason to believe it may be airborne. Alpha and Billy are working non-stop, conferring with friends on other worlds about this. Now you see why I need someone on this case immediately. We have far to many questions and not nearly enough answers. These militia types, if spooked, can disappear without a trace. They'll go quite and won't be heard from for months. An assault force wouldn't answer any of our questions. We need reliable intell from the inside, and we need it now."
She had to admit she was flattered to be considered for what had to be the Command Center's top priority at the moment. This was big, no doubt about it. "So this 'Darkness' militia is looking for investors? We just don't know why?"
"Exactly. They were a medium sized operation up until eight months ago. Mostly holding meetings in bars, strip joints, and pool halls. Passing out flyers and spreading their rhetoric on the internet. They were always worth keeping an eye on, but never so much as to feel they could be a threat to the Homeland Security. Then suddenly all contact with them ceased. When it started up again they were far more secretive. They had more members and are operating out of a secret location. One the F.B.I hasn't located yet even with the best satellite technology. Even with ours."
Kimberly knew that if the Command Center's spy satellites could not find something then only technology not of this world could have cloaked it. "With all due respect, I still don't see why we are involved. There are agents available who are trained for this sort of job. Why put a Ranger on it?"
"The reason is about to be made crystal clear." On screen a new photo came up. One of a Asian woman with long dark hair. A familiar one. One Kimberly has not seen in years. The outfit may have been different as well as the hair style, but that face was unmistakable.
"Yes. An undercover F.B.I agent took that photo of her three weeks ago in Silver Cliff, Colorado. She's on Earth."
"According to Andros, the last he heard, Scorpina was dealing in genetic virus's. Specifically, selling them to the highest bidder on other worlds. But what could an earthling offer her? Our currency is meaningless out in the universe."
"I don't have the answer to that question. I'm hoping you and your partner can supply it."
"So you think Scorpina may have supplied the Darkness with the virus? Perhaps they killed a few of their own by testing it somehow?"
"Anything is possible. Scorpina's experience in using genetic weapons is but one of our concerns. We received word of a F.B.I agent being found strangled to death in her parking garage earlier this week. She had been working on infiltrating the Darkness and had reportedly made contact with someone inside their group who had grown dismayed by their focus. On the day she was to meet with him, she was killed. We don't know what happened to her."
Kimberly loved a good mystery, and this was one she could sink her teeth into. Undercover work with bite, unlike most of her missions. This was down and dirty. Dangerous. Suddenly, she wasn't so much looking forward to her trip. "What do you want me to do?"
"Your mission will take time. We're not rushing this. We need confirmation of everything and everyone involved. You and your partner will fly into Silver Creek, Colorado under assumed names. We already have a cover story and fake ID's ready. I've been personally putting this together for the last seventy hours. You and your partner with go in as a married couple. Heroin dealers from the East Coast. Big timers who have cash, no love for the government and a right-wing agenda. You heard some people were doing big things in Silver Cliff and you want in on the early stages of it. There's a paper trail in place for 'The Darkness' to find when they check you out."
While collecting her thoughts, she's still going over the folder. "Who's my partner in this?"
As if all the air exited not only out of her lungs, but the entire room as well. The last thing in the world she wanted to do was be paired with Tommy Oliver for any length of time. To much history there. To many unresolved issues.
Far to many unresolved feelings.
"Ms. Calister," she called her attention, taking a deep breath. "With all due respect, Tommy and I aren't close anymore. We rarely talk and aren't on the best of terms. While I know, professionally speaking, that should have no bearing on the mission, I feel another partner would be a better idea. I'd be far more comfortable with Billy or Jason. Rocky even, if he's back from Japan."
Never swim in the office pool, she was told many years ago concerning relationships with those you work with. "I am well aware of your past with Mr. Oliver, and all that transpired. Respectfully, Billy brought me up to speed. Heartlessly, I have to say, get over it. Lives are at stake. He's available now and is as good as anyone under pressure, same as you are. The two of you are the very best we have at improvising when things don't go as planned. I think you will work well together because of your past, as well as your experience and professionalism."
She's guilt tripping her with duty. Doesn't she know that going undercover for days or weeks alone with Tommy might just drive her mad? Or force them to talk about all the things they've neglected to for years? She doesn't like this one bit. And yet, lives are on the line. This is her job. Her life. "When do I leave?"
"Tomorrow morning. I'll brief you both then."
Nodding, Kimberly knew the next few days were going to be very interesting indeed.
Angel Grove International AirportTerminal 8
Friday, March 12, 2005 9:50 AM
Angel Grove, Ca
In a way he's glad she's late.
He can imagine the knowing smile on her face already. For all the times over the years she's teased him about his ability to forget things and never arrive on time, for once he'll be able to turn it all on her. 'Ms. AlwaysOnTime' will finally get hers.
Smiling to himself, Tommy felt sitting in this loud overly crowded airport was worth it just to see the look on Aisha's face. Yeah, he's petty, but so what. He's waited years get her back for a million and one jokes at his expense. A decade of teasing, if you will.
All in all he's in a good mood.
Not only about getting back at Sha, but just being home again. He's due some R&R. A few weeks worth, and most definitely is looking forward to it. His fathers recent cancer scare has left him with a renewed appreciation of family, as well as the need to spend more time with them. Add into that equation, and this is something he won't admit to, he's feeling lonely these days. He misses them. Things with Kat are good, but... Some clarifications are needed.
When, if ever, will he have a simple normal loving relationship? When...
His latest mission only furthered his restless mood. England was far to rainy and gloomy during his stay. It just wasn't his scene, and to be fair, he wasn't there for very long. Maybe on a second visit, one in which he actually goes to have a good time his opinion will change. Not this first time though. Sightings of a weird green spiked creature began to reach the front page of England's major newspapers, thus alarming the public. No attacks had taken place as of yet, but if Billy's hunch was right, that this creature was a child of a dangerous species he recognized, and once it reached maturity it would be a threat.
Having gone through all the pictures, descriptions, and eye witness reports provided to them, Billy and Tommy felt they were dealing with a Class VX8 creature. One that Kylis, a Alterian bounty hunter the Rangers had a brief encounter with six months ago in London used to keep as pets. Their best guess was that one may have escaped before he departed Earth.
Tommy was quickly dispatched to track down this Class VX8 creature targeting England's largest subway, the London Underground. Class VX8 creatures could grow up to a weight of over one ton, with teeth sharper than steel. There were dangerous predators once they reached full maturity. This thing had to be stopped before it had time to escape into the wild and disappear, only to return a much deadlier force to be reckoned with.
Using a pheromone spray that originated from plants on this creatures home world, Tommy was able to hunt it down and capture it fairly quickly, and most importantly, without any press or sightings dredging up new rumors for the late night newscasts or tabloids. The less the general population knew these days concerning the paranormal or extraterrestrial, the better. The creature was flown via special transport to the Command Center last night where it will be shipped back to it's home world in 72 hours, while Tommy took a first class flight out this morning. He just wanted a good nights sleep.
All in all his mission took less than twenty-four hours to complete. As easy as any he'd had in the last two years.
Strangers living lives he could only imagine walked by him. The nameless scurrying on their way, never the wiser of the true world around them. Living lives he sacrificed his for so that they would be able to sleep at night in a safe world. Still, he has no regrets. At least not returning to this line of work. It's exciting and dangerous, elements of himself he's now forced to admit he needs. But more importantly, this work is fulfilling. He serves and protects. He helps the helpless. He stops the bad guys.
It's really that simple at the end of the day. And that serious.
The pays great, or so Rocky continues to remind him. And really, after so many years of living the Ranger life, how many of the long-time former Rangers had anything else to go to that would give their lives meaning. Tanya and Zack walked away, choosing different paths, while always remaining on call in case of an emergency. Everyone else jumped on board within the first month of being offered the job.
As for Tommy, dreams of being a Nascar driver or opening that dojo were just that. Dreams. When the call came in for this new joint Government/former Rangers project, he found himself packing a suitcase before he even hung up the phone. There's this rush... This passion that comes from the life he has always led. Always in motion. Never boring or stagnant.
He can spread his wings and fly.
"Don't say it."
A most familiar voice called out behind him. One that caused him to grin as he rose to his feet and turned around. "I have waited years for this."
Smug and handsome, Aisha just rolled her eyes. How could this soldier still be a big kid at the end of the day. "Look, there was traffic and I had to drop off some rented DVD's. I got stuck in the line from hell at the Post Office. Oh, and I also had to..."
"You," Tommy proudly pointed out, grabbing his bags. "Are late." He took a quick check of his watch, nodding. "You are over thirty minutes late. That's not a little late. That's very late. You didn't by any chance," he leaned down to her ear, eye brow arched, "forget, did you?"
"Boy, get away from me." Aisha affectionately shoved him away as they walked out of the airport. Small talk ensued... How was your flight... Thanks for picking me up... Have you had anything to eat? Their friendship has grown and evolved over the years, due more to the fact that they've been paired up far more than any other two pairings of former Rangers. Kat thinks there's this odd brother/sister element to their friendship. Aisha, ever out spoken and blunt, will get in Tommy's face like no other. In turn, it was Tommy who pushed Aisha into finally admitting she had feelings for Rocky. There's a connection between them. A private one that has turned into a intimately deep friendship.
"So how was your morning?"
Aisha pulled out of the airport parking garage, not answering right away. She had to broach this in a certain way. Not her usual way, but this was Tommy after all. "Rocky woke me up early."
There's a hint of a smile in her tone of voice. Tommy knows why. "How's things in Japan?"
"Whatever caused that explosion at the UN building was a byproduct of something from Earth. All tests have proved that so far. It's out of our jurisdiction. He's hoping to have all the paperwork wrapped up in a day or so and then he'll be on his way home." Despite knowing she would never hear the end of it, Aisha couldn't help but to smile at the prospect of Rocky coming home. Just before he left she finally admitted she had feelings for him. Of course she yelled it as he boarded his plane, resulting in his screaming "NOW YOU TELL ME." Rocky's bewildered grin has had her in a relatively good, if nervous mood for days now.
Aisha's fidgeting, biting her bottom lip. Tommy knows what that means. She's nervous. Once Rocky is back she's going to have to face up to revealing her feelings. That's not her strong suit. Just another thing they have in common. "You'll be fine," he reassured her even while knowing she would never ask for it.
"I hope so," she sighed. "Kim said the same thing." Thankfully a red light gave her a second to gauge Tommy's response to the mention of his ex-girlfriends name. Eyes narrowed, he stared straight ahead, acting as if nothing could touch him. Aisha knew different. Kim could always touch him, even if it was simply hearing her name.
"You're baiting me."
He knew her to well. "No, just mentioning a old friend," she politely added, turning at the corner. "I had breakfast with Kim this morning. I ran into her at the Command Center. She just returned from Madrid and has already been given a new assignment." She fought the smile tugging at her lips tooth and nail.
Inside, in a place he could not name and would never acknowledge, Tommy exhaled a thankful breath of air. Avoiding Kim has been key in getting over her and staying out of her life. No doubt she adopted the same idea. Facing her is always... it's... he doesn't need or want the drama... or the tension. "Did her mission go well?"
"Successful, but not without casualties," Aisha replied somberly. These things were never easy for them to deal with. For as many lives as they've saved, those precious few they can't stays with them. "Her and Adam are fine and the bad guys are dead. Par for the course."
Hearing that Kim is safe affected Tommy more than he cared to admit. Exhaling, he shifted in his seat. "At least the threat is over."
Aisha knew she might be the only person in the world that could ask him this question. Especially these days with Jason and Kim dating. "Why can't you admit you miss her?"
He saw that one coming a mile away, but couldn't muster any anger toward Sha because he knew she cared. Tommy didn't answer right away, his silence speaking volumes. He stared out the window. "Why can't you let this go?"
"Because I've been in the same room with you two," Aisha pointed out as she turned a corner. "I've seen how you look at each other while trying not to look at each other. You can cut the tension with a laser sword, Tommy. Even you know that. Things were never resolved between you two. Neither of you will make the first move to fix things."
"I dated her in high school," he reminisced for the one millionth time, pushing away that dull aching pain of her loss from his heart. "She dumped me, fell in love with someone else, and moved on. We stayed out of touch for a long time, and now we work for the same people. We aren't friends anymore. I don't hate her or wish anything bad on her, but we just don't have anything to say."
"If you were truly over then one of you would have hashed things out years ago and be on speaking terms. You can't talk to each other. Neither of you will even try."
"She certainly hasn't made any attempts," he spat out.
"Neither have you." He's becoming annoyed with her. She can always tell when his foot starts tapping the floor. It's almost cute. "Look at you," she taunted playfully, further infuriating him. "You can barely sit still. Admit it. You still love her."
To admit that would be opening himself up again to a world of hurt. "I want nothing to do with Kim."
"She feels the same way about you."
"Good," came quick and somewhat mean from his lips. Aisha's laughing next to him. "I'm so happy you find this amusing."
"Oh, stop it." He can't stay mad at her for long. They know each other entirely to well. "Look, I don't know if you and Kim are meant to be together or anything sappy like that. But I do know that when you two are near each other I can see the sparks. Everyone can, whether they want to admit it or not. And I think you're both afraid of the sparks. If you two get to close, you know all hell would break loose."
"I'm not afraid of anything."
"You'd stare down a alien army or any ancient omnipotent entity without batting a eye lash. But little ole short petite Kimberly Ann Hart ties your insides up in knots and you know it."
Tommy delivered his next words in a darker tone he usually reserved for battle. "She's dating Jason."
Jealousy... Good, she smiled. "And if he can make my girl happy, then I'm all for it."
"They're in love."
Defiant, Aisha turned to him. "Is that what you think?"
His eyes widened. "Hasn't she told you so?"
"I wouldn't tell you if she had. That's private." Tommy nodded, reluctantly. Yes, he still has feelings for Kim. She had no doubt in her mind. And judging from the very animated way Kimberly described how badly she did not want to work with him, she still has feelings too. Going away together will at the very least give them a chance to bring back their friendship. At the most, she dared hope... "Do you love Kat?"
Expected. "Are you in love with Kat?"
"I... sometimes I'm not sure what I feel for her. I just know she's a good woman and has been a great friend to me."
"She's... she's the past."
"Yeah, well your past is about to catch up with you. Mr. Oliver."
"What does that mean?"
Aisha just smiled.
Kimberly Hart's apartment
Friday, March 12, 2005 7:15 PM
Angel Grove, Ca
Having only lived here for a little less than a year, Kimberly absolutely adored her apartment on the Northside of Angel Grove.
It's distinctive modern architecture caught her eye from the moment she first toured it. The contemporary interior design, completely furnished the day she moved in, with it's high ceilings, detailed moldings, fireplace, and woodwork were a dream come true, and at a great price. The charming kitchen came with a private enclosed balcony that sealed the deal of her taking the place. She only wished she had more time to spend at home to enjoy it. Alas, such was the busy life of a Ranger.
After lighting the last of the rose scented candles, Kim blew out the match sandwiched between her fingertips, then rubbed away the tip. Lastly, she tossed it in the trash. A quick trip to the sink and back, now she can survey the kitchen properly.
Not to shabby at all.
The entire apartment's clean from top to bottom, courtesy of the new-found energy she awoke with after her five hour nap today. Well, to be completely honest, the nap and her new Maroon 5 CD assisted her. Listening to good music while cleaning seemed to make it go by faster. Her kitchen in particular looked immaculate, as intended. Hopefully, a romantic home cooked meal for two still counted as a date among young people. Shaking her head at the thought, she had to remind herself she's still counted among the young, only twenty-five years old herself. Funny thing is, she hasn't felt young in such a long time, she's not even sure what it's supposed to feel like. Then again, tonight's not about trying to recapture her youth... or anything she loved and lost with it.
Feeling practically sinful in her slinky little black dress, Kim made sure dinner was done and cooling on the stove, then she strode back into her living room and took a seat on her couch, relaxing in front of the fireplace as the flames danced for her amusement alone. A quiet moment of reflection before an evening with Jason... and whatever else she might indulge in.
Real life would rear it's ugly head again soon enough.
Upon leaving Ms. Calister's office, Kim found herself desperately in need of more coffee and a friendly ear. Shaken by the news of her next assignment, and who she's partnered with, she found what she was looking for in the cafeteria with Aisha, who was already at the Command Center for a early meeting. Her friends laughter still rang in her ear over her near future predicament with Tommy. Despite her every excuse and complaint about working with her ex-boyfriend of so many years ago, one who she hasn't had a conversation with for longer than ten minutes since forever, only inspired Aisha more along the lines of pestering her to see if she had any feelings left for Tommy.
"I don't," Kimberly promised herself yet again as she relaxed, her legs tucked under her, awaiting Jason's arrival. Honestly, it's been far to long for her to still be harboring any feelings for Tommy other than regret. Meanwhile, he's certainly not trying to hide his feelings for her, which include disgust half the time he looks at her, and anger the other half. He's had little or nothing to say to her other than a polite 'Hello' or 'Goodbye.' Both of which were the extent of her having anything to say to him as well. Forced conversation best described their confrontations since rejoining the Rangers.
So what if she can still remember his scent that sweet first time he kissed her so many years ago.
It didn't matter that the love she felt for him as a teenager still eclipsed any she's felt as an adult.
Nothing about the way she can barely breath when she's in the same room with him meant a thing.
Who cares if the sight of him after a battle... the fiery look in his eyes... the barely restrained rage he exuded that could still draw her eyes to him like a moth to a flame.
At the very least, Kimberly could admit to herself how attractive he was. Even more so now that he's tempered by age. Wanting Tommy and liking him, however, were two very different things. Part of her may still desire him, but didn't like him. Then again, she doesn't rank at all on his good list either. Not the way Katherine does, and has for as long as Kim could remember.
She'd never admit it, not to herself or anyone else, how Katherine's relationship with Tommy has affected her. Not now and not ever.
There's no use in crying over spilled milk. Kimberly knows and accepts full responsibility for their current situation. She made this bed and has been lying in it alone for nearly a decade. She's over him and she knows it because if she wasn't she would have said something a long time ago. Of course she would have. She didn't because he's a part of her past that she'd like to forget, though not entirely for reasons that have anything to do with him. At one brief time in her life she may have loved him absolute, and with her whole heart. Back when they were innocent, and the teenage Kim dreamed romantic notions of a someday wedding with her White Ranger in shining armor.
She had long since let go of all of that. Years and life experiences later had a way fading all of them to black, until those dreams were barely even memories anymore. Some nights they resembled fairy tales.
Kimberly has long accepted that her job came before her personal life, so to that end she will do everything in her power to build a solid working relationship with Tommy for the sake of the mission. She had no doubt of his professionalism, and could at least count on that. Inevitably, they will talk and maybe under these circumstances is for the best. He dislikes her and he'll dislike her even more once he learns the whole truth behind why she broke up with him years ago. Even though that's a moment in the past, it still haunts her, and in his eyes she can see the same with him. The truth will finally come out and they can both finally move on.
Speaking of moving on, Kim's second deep thought of the evening suddenly came to mind. Casually dating Jason has been fun, and a perfect fit for their hectic schedules. Having always been such good, close friends, this natural progression to something more felt like the thing to do, and so far so good. At least they weren't lonely anymore, something they both complained of one night on the Command Centers rooftop when a comforting hug lasted a little to long.
They have mad fun together, whether watching movies or going out when they have time. They have trust, honestly, and more than a few things in common. Maybe not passion yet, but that could all change tonight.
It's just that after three whole months they've shared nothing more intimate than a couple of lingering good night kisses.
So when does that change?
He'd be only her fourth lover ever, and first in eight months, Kim begrudgingly admitted to herself. She's a normal healthy adult woman with a very stressful job, and craves what all normal healthy adult women crave. Physical pleasure, affection, and companionship, only she wasn't looking for meaningless sex. She's attracted enough to Jason. He's handsome and has a chiseled body that sent most girls into convulsions, though still at times she can't see him 'in that way'. As much as she'd like to 'go there' with him, so far she hasn't been able to. Perhaps a little wine and dinner by candlelight will ignite a new fire within her. One that only he could put out. Perhaps...
A knock at her door. Whatever will the night bring? Whatever it is, Kimberly's looking forward to finding out. She opened the front door to a single white rose extended toward her. Jason's carefree smile greeted her as she took the rose from his hand. "That's so sweet. Thank you," she smiled, stepping back as he entered her apartment and shut the door behind him. A slightly nervous shiver crept up her spine when she felt his eyes turn to hunger at the sight of her. Just the response she was hoping for. "You like?"
"You look beautiful."
Beautiful... Absolutely the wrong word to use, though she managed to hide it well, especially since he was sincere. "I do my best." His advance on her led to their first kiss of the evening. A longer one than their usual greetings offered. With his strong arms around her, Kimberly considered that maybe his hopes for the evening matched her possibilities.
"Uhm, Kim. Can we talk for a few minutes before dinner?" Jason could tell his request caught her a bit off guard. He just didn't want this hanging over their heads when they're supposed to be trying to enjoy themselves this evening. "It won't take long and it's not bad news."
He smelled great and looked even better, Kim was more than a little happy to note. She led him around the couch as they took seats next to each other. Legs crossed and deep breath time. Jason's pretty easy to read seeing as how she's known him since childhood. "You must have heard about my next assignment."
"Yeah," he confirmed with a nod. "It doesn't sound easy at all."
"For a number of reasons."
Good. Jason could appreciate Kim not hiding the Tommy-factor as being one of the reasons. At least they won't be avoiding things. "So how do you feel about it? The assignment, I mean?"
"Well, speaking strictly about the assignment, it's very important, obviously. An unidentified possibly airborne virus given to a violent militia group by one of our oldest enemies is a top priority. Undercover work in particular, as you know, is never easy. This one has no time stamp on it, so we're there until we finish the job. There are a lot of unknown variables we're walking smack dab into," she explained truthfully, then added with something of an subtle grin, "I'm nervously looking forward to it."
Despite the danger, Jason knew he would have felt the same way. Danger and excitement is a part of what drives them all these days, for different reasons and the same. "Billy and I worked all day long, conferring with our off-world contacts. No ones seen Scorpina anywhere for months, and we even had an unconfirmed report of her death on a starship attacked by pirates."
"Can you dig anything else up from that lead?"
"We're trying, but so far that's all we've found."
"If she's on Earth, Tommy and I will find her."
Jason couldn't help but to closely gauge her every nuance when speaking of her former boyfriend, and his former best friend. He only wondered if she regretted where she stood now half as much as he did. That wasn't an answer he wanted to examine to closely. "I know working with Tommy again won't be easy."
"We'll manage," came quickly, even as she looked away, eyes facing the flames.
"You don't have to pretend, Kim."
"That being alone with him won't affect you. I know you, remember?"
He truly did, though at the moment she wished he didn't. Exhaling a deep cleansing breath, Kimberly confessed, "We've avoided so much for so long."
"The question is, why?"
"The answer is, immaturity." They shared a laugh over that one, honest to a fault. "I immaturely hurt him and he's immaturely hurting me with the silent treatment. We avoid talking things out because after so long, it's easier staying mad and away then facing the past."
It's because that past meant so much to you both, Jason kept to himself, even as it hurt inside. "You can't work effectively together as a team without getting the past behind you, Kim."
"It happened so many years ago, Jason. We're completely different poeple now. I used to know what time he got up in the morning. I knew his favorite cereal, and what movies scared him as a child. I knew everything there was to know about Tommy Oliver once upon a time. And now, I don't know that man at all. I know his face. I barely know his smile. But I don't know him anymore."
"And you wish you did?"
"Sometimes..." she softly answered his deeply probing query. "But not in the way you're thinking."
"I'm not making assumptions."
"Good. I let Tommy go a long time ago. I'm not trying to rehash that."
"I'm sure Kat will be pleased to hear that." He's not entirely sure why he added that little comment in. Then again, maybe he's feared the exact reaction the mentioning of Tommy's girlfriends name would have on Kim. A slow to build withdrawing from her normally bubbly persona to one of a woman with secrets and a hidden pain. As badly as he wants to move forward with her, something has always held him back from pushing for it. "You and Tommy used to be so close. The best of friends."
He didn't understand. No one did but them. Her and Tommy. Kimberly turned to him and confessed, "We were never just friends. I think that's part of the problem why we haven't been in years. We don't know how."
There were a number of emotional mine fields that kind of response could foreshadow. Nonetheless, Jason's a man who stands up to any challenge. "You guys are going to do a great job."
"You're taking this all very well."
"Not the response you were expecting?"
"It's not everyday your girlfriend goes away for an indefinite period of time with her ex-boyfriend." It's her turn to gauge his mood, a smirk lifting her lips.
"I trust you. And I trust him."
"Good," Kimberly leaned in closer on the wing tips of whisper, grabbing his shirt by the collar. "Enough Ranger talk. Let's talk about us..."
The Command Center
Janine Calisters Briefing Room
Saturday, March 13, 2005 6:30 PM
Angel Grove, Ca
And the lights dimmed...
"Allow me to introduce to you Mr. and Mrs. Benjamin and Kelis Ford." The projectors ethereal glow illuminated the spacious dark briefing room as the side-by-side black and white photos of a man and woman were shown on the wall-screen. Caucasian, both with dark brown hair, looking to be in their early to mid twenties. The male appeared around to be 6'1 in height, with a muscular, albeit lanky build. No facial hair, but a partially visible eagle tattoo on his left shoulder. The woman's hair was barely shoulder length, her height around 5'3, carrying a slim, toned physique. "They live and work out of Manhattan. To the general public, and according to the Internal Revenue Service, they made their living as owners of a small airlines company known as 'Eagle Wings Airways.' This twenty-two year old airline company offers helicopters and small airplanes to get business and leisure travelers wherever they needed to go throughout the state of New York. Their company earned profits in excess of 17 million dollars last year."
Having arrived on time thirty minutes ago, Tommy sat on one side of the dark oval table, a stack of files in front of him as Kimberly sat across the way, her gaze focused onscreen. Their final briefing before leaving in two hours had just begun. Casting a look toward his new partner, even cloaked in shadows she's still so beautiful...
"Kelis Marsters, her maiden name, age 27, was left her fathers company when he passed away from a massive heart attack some nine years ago. Upon graduating with honors at St. Johns University, she reportedly met Benjamin Ford, age 26, at a party thrown by some friends. At the time he was eight months released from a two-year prison sentence for armed robbery, drug trafficking, and fraud. He received a reduced sentence on the condition that he rat out his cohorts."
"Let me guess," Tommy interjected, "He sang like Ray Charles?"
"Correct," Janine confirmed as she flipped the projectors switch to show a few more photos, including a few wedding pictures. "Benjamin and Kelis reportedly hit it off at the party and entered into a very passionate relationship. According to interviews with incarcerated former partners of theirs, they were the typical good girl from a nice family falling for the bad boy from the wrong side of town type of couple. Only in this case, the bad boy found a more than willing to learn bad girl. Benjamin introduced Kelis to a world she never knew existed. One that charmed her in some destructive sort of way. Within three years the Fords were known to the F.B.I as major heroin traffickers for the Mob, flying in narcotics from South America and Cuba to be distributed on the East Coast and the Midwest. Unfortunately for everyone involved in the case against them, a few dirty cops on the take let things go under their noses for a long time. Good cops died because of it, while the Ford's made millions."
"Why would Kelis take so many dangerous risks when she was already rich?" Kim pondered with her eyes trained on the information folder in her lap. "I just don't understand the lure. How much is enough money for some people?"
Janine leaned against to the side of the table. "Apparently, Kelis was very close to her father, and when he passed away she began experimenting with drugs and the wrong crowd, so her start down a bad road began there. When Benjamin entered the picture, he only added to her troubles with his own. As we all know, money and power has a way of corrupting people into wanting more and more until no amount is enough. Then comes the danger of getting away with something you shouldn't, and the ego behind doing it for so long right under peoples noses that the rush takes control of them. They make bad decisions."
Tommy skimmed over Benjamin Ford's rap sheet, sighed, then closed the folder. "This guy was in and out of foster homes for years before joining a gang, then moving on to organized crime. He's a career criminal in every sense of the word."
"Kelis doesn't have a record of even an arrest," Kimberly chimed in as she thumbed through a couple of surveillance pictures. "Spoiled little princess, no doubt."
"Dead little princess," Janine explained, her emerald green eyes as serious as ever. "Both Kelis and Benjamin were killed a little over two weeks ago when a leisure flight in one of their private Commander 700 planes crashed in the Hudson River, killing them, the pilot, and three friends instantly. The Feds covered up their deaths in order to go after their connections to the mafia, but the situation suited our purpose far better."
More details were given and discussed, with options offered and debated as the meeting progressed.
So far, so good, as they've kept things strictly business, much to Kimberly's relief. Being so close to her ex-boyfriend left her weary... and frustrated. She's talked when spoken to, and added her input throughout as well. All business, and nothing else. Unfortunately, she knew that would not last. "How will we introduce ourselves to The Darkness?"
Janine flipped a few more photos, until she reached the photo of an older woman of Hispanic descent. A mug shot. "Her is Rose Maria Hernandez, age 58. A three time felon whose served 14 years in Rikers Island at one point, F.B.I records have her as a senior member of The Darkness until she was killed in a shoot out with police officers after jumping bail two months ago. We believe, according to our most recent sources that she was one of twelve or thirteen Darkness members sent out all over North America and Britain to find and recruit rich and powerful individuals who hate the United States government and what they felt was it's over reaching, dominating presence in the world. They were told to recruit the most successful criminals. Especially those with political and industrial connections. Apparently, the Darkness have been offering something amazing, and we believe, other-worldly, to potential investors. Something as of yet we haven't been able to identify. The Darkness now seem to have in their possession technology that is shielding their actions, moves, and dealings. They are brutally efficient and deadly. We know they have access to a very large and so far untraceable amount of money. The deaths of three F.B.I agents over the last two years gave us this information," Janine declared as her professionalism overrided her somber feelings for the lost agents. "We need inside intelligence immediately on what The Darkness is offering and how they obtained the technology that they now possess. Especially if Scorpina is involved. If we run in at them with all guns blazing we still won't know who gave them what they had and if they plan on sharing it with others. Most importantly, we need samples and the chemical make-up of this potentially deadly airborne virus."
Lifting his eyes for but a moment, Tommy met Kimberly's stare... a deeply personal moment both quickly shoved aside. Pushing thoughts of her away, he turned his attention back to the detailed reports in front of him, specifically the city they'll be stuck in for some time. "Tell me about Silver Cliff, Colorado."
Janie pulled up photos of a map onscreen. "There's more info inside your files, but here's the gist. The city of Silver Cliff, Colorado is so small it's population is around 1,300 people. The city itself is barely 18 miles in total. It's surrounded by mountains and forests, with it's closest neighboring city being the much larger Pueblo, Colorado. The racial make-up is 90 White, with a slightly below average educational background. It's also home some of the most Right-Wing thinking in the State. A militia groups paradise, as one Federal agent put it. Don't expect much in the way of entertainment or anything else, Bars, pool halls and factories make up most of the city."
"Small towns talk, Janine," Kimberly added, stretching her legs out under the table. "Everyone knows everyone. As soon as Tommy and I arrive we're gonna stick out like a sore thumb. I'm sure when Rose sought out Benjamin and Kelis in New York she had photos of them. Judging by your pictures, while Tommy and I have similar physical builds, we don't look anything like them. How are we supposed to get around that? And please don't say prosthetics," she smiled, and found a similar one across the table from her. When was the last time he smiled her way? And why did it make her feel so warm inside? Warmer than anything that happened in her apartment last night.
"Good question, Kimberly," Ms. Calister agreed, then pressed a small black button on the table, and ten seconds later Katherine entered the briefing room carrying two slim briefcases. "As you both know, Ms. Hillard is now heading up our new Tech division. She's brought with her a few items that I think will solve our little problem."
Rounding the table, with a polite wave and hello to Kim, Katherine slowly graced her hand over Tommy's shoulder, then dropped a cell phone in his lap. "You left this at my place last night," she whispered in a teasing tone, never missing out on a chance to remind him of his legendarily bad memory. "Whatever would you do without me?"
"Let's hope I never find out," Tommy replied with a grin, slipping the cell phone back in his pocket. Movie night at her apartment had been fun until he had to leave because his mom caught a flat tire at the grocery store and needed a hand.
Despite her best efforts, witnessing Tommy and Kat's somewhat flirtatious moment caused Kimberly's stomach clench. As soon as that well of emotion built inside her, it faded away as fast as it arrived. Old emotions needed to stay dead. As dead as the relationship she gave away a lifetime ago. She held her silence, looking elsewhere.
Not wanting any part of the obvious tense issues between the three agents, Janine whimsically declared, "Thank you for bringing Mr. Oliver's cell phone, Ms. Hillard. Kindly take a seat and show us what you have." She sat down in her chair at the head of the table while Katherine stood and opened one of the briefcases, then swung them around for Tommy and Kim to see.
Lifting a small pouch from the briefcase, Katherine exposed two gold wedding bands. "These might look like your traditional wedding bands, but that couldn't be farther from the truth. They are one of Billy's new designs. A merging of light and sensory perception, mixed with alien holographic mental manipulation."
"English, Kat." His tease earned him a glare, though Katherine knew he was kidding. They shared a grin only old friends could share.
"Ahem, for the less intelligent," the second Pink Ranger added with a smirk," These rings will produce full body holographic image of the real Benjamin and Kelis Ford while you are wearing them. Each ring has a power charge of about twelve hours, and we have two hundred and fifty of them for you. The initials inscribed on the inside of the band tell you who's who. While you are wearing them you will look exactly like your counterparts, no matter if you are standing in broad daylight, in the dead of night, by a fire or under water. While you're wearing them you will both see each other as you really are. Only the people around you will see your undercover identities."
Kimberly leaned over, casting a closer look at the rings. Standard issue, by her estimation. "Wow. Billy's Kung-Fu is indeed the best."
Tommy joked, "If it works for clothes too we'd never have to shop again."
He certainly drew her attention with that line. "Hey, I like shopping. No knocking the shopping, got it?"
"Sorry, Kim. Some of us don't enjoy touring the mall for hours on end."
Sorry, Tommy. Some of us like to keep up with fashion and don't think the sweat shirt is the greatest piece of clothing ever made."
"Yeah, and I'd like to get in and out of the mall without dealing with long lines of shoppers trying their very best to max out their credit cards. A skill you mastered by your sophomore year of high school."
"You didn't seem to mind the short skirts," she dared him to deny.
His comeback died on the tip of his tongue the second her sexy smile captured that little piece of him he's locked away for so very long. How long has it been since they've bantered back and forth, the chemistry undeniable. "Anyway..."
A smirk of victory danced over Kimberly's soft lips, her hands in her lap. Observing their interaction, Janine seemed amused even without revealing it, while Kat... not so much.
"Okay, our last bit of business is your contact when you arrive in Silver Cliff. Rose Hernandez's boyfriend, Cortez Raul, expects to meet you two as well as four other potential investors tonight at the Comeback Inn, a small eatery/bar on the East side of town. The address is 63 Kankakee Road. The meeting is set at 9:00 PM tonight, so be armed, ready, and on time."
Pushing a few errant strands of her luminous blonde hair behind her ear, Katherine felt like somewhat of an outsider looking in, especially after Tommy and Kim's last little exchange. She put together their travel bags, weapons, and surveillance equipment for the last hour so they can be ready at a moments notice to leave. Her job here is finished, even as she knows she can stay if she wanted. Deep down she would have killed to be on this mission alone with Tommy. Not only for the importance of the mission, excitement and danger, but the alone time to see if they can finally push through to something lasting, or she can know for sure if it's time to walk away and spare her heart what she's beginning to see as an inevitable break. "I'll leave you guys to the rest of your meeting."
Janine acknowledged her. "Thank you, Katherine. That'll be all."
Katherine nodded. "Good luck, Kim."
"Thanks Kat." She hadn't meant to, but followed her successor when she leaned down and pressed a soft kiss to Tommy's cheek, whispered something in his ear that he responded to "I will. I promise," she walked out of the briefing room.
"Our last piece of business is the leader of The Darkness, Christopher Lockheed. The Irish born, 58 year old Vietnam Veteran and former career military man since age 18 was dishonorably discharged from the military in 1985 for disobeying direct orders and selling weapons illegally to organized crime syndicates and small countries overseas. He's a vicious sociopath who believes he's doing what's best for his country and the world. He's charismatic, strong-willed, and will use any means necessary to accomplish his goals. Money, man power, and the law hampered his progress over the years. None of those things seem to be in his way anymore, though lucky for us, he's still in search of new recruits with deep pockets. We just don't have any inside intell and we need it desperately." Sending her men and women into harms way was never easy for Janine, though it's the life they lead. "You are both licensed to kill, and as you know, this mission never took place. It's off the books and if you're captured and killed the Government and everyone involved will disavow any knowledge of your involvement or ours. You are free to, and this comes from the White House, use any means at your disposal to accomplish this mission. It is a matter of national security and should be treated as such. Do you both understand?"
"Yes," said in unison.
"Grab the newspapers from over there from both Silver Cliff and New York. Familiarize yourself with what's going there locally, then report to Kat's Tech Department for the rest of your gear. Sit down and go over your files one last time. Jason's got the Mach-One transport fueled and ready to leave. I expect you both gone inside of three hours. Dismissed."
Command Center Transport Hanger 12
90 Minutes Later.
Standing on the 'Mach-One's boarding ramp, his shoulders set in a most impatient pose, Tommy kept his vision trained anywhere else but the sight a few feet away from him as Kimberly and Jason said their quiet goodbyes in the hangers entryway.
That small nagging part of him that was curious about the true nature of their relationship, seeing as how he only ever asked Aisha outright about, wanted to know what wasn't his business. Would they whisper intimate 'I love you's' on the wing tips of a goodbye kiss? Would he care?
Frustrated by his inner thoughts, Tommy shook his head free of questions whose answers didn't matter to his life one way or another. But try as he might to drag himself up that ramp and load his luggage, he couldn't stop himself from sneaking a quick glance the couples way. As luck would have it, he caught sight of Jason kissing Kimberly on the lips for a fraction of a second... and if he's not mistaken, their kiss appeared... awkward. Something was off, and either he's more over her than he thought he was and doesn't care anymore, or deep down he knows there's something lacking between them. Pushing those thoughts aside, he finally boarded the craft.
When Kimberly turned around, she caught sight of Tommy's boots disappearing up the ramp, just out of sight. Always out of reach. If she thinks about him watching her kiss Jason then she'll start to wonder how that made him feel, or if it made him feel anything at all. It's bad enough after last nights 'freeze-up' that her goodbye with Jason felt so forced, she came close to turning her cheek when he leaned in to kiss her. No matter. All things up in the air will be made clear by the time she gets back. Perhaps time away is what she needs most of all.
Upon boarding the craft, Kimberly dialed in the boarding code on the wall keypad, raising and locking the ramp behind her. She found Tommy with his back to her at one of the two multi-shelf work stations located in the rear of the ship. "You all set?"
Tommy turned to her and nodded. "I brought three suitcases," his gaze turned to the opposite work station, "To your five."
The ramp shut a minute ago and he's already busting her chops. "Is that a subtle dig?"
"No, it's a fact. Did you really need five suitcases?"
"We don't know how long we're going to be gone, Tommy," she reasoned with him as she set up her work station, flipping the light switch above her head. "Rich girls dress nice and look the part. Ergo, I needed to bring more nicer clothing."
Rolling his eyes, Tommy mumbled her words under his breath while searching through one of his suitcases, only to frown when a realization hit him. "I can't believe I forgot all my underwear."
"Why am I not surprised."
Tommy felt like throwing something at her, but decided against it. "Hopefully they at least have a general store or something in Silver Cliff."
"Yeah, it would suck if you only had one pair of underwear..."
"Boxers," he corrected her.
"Pardon me," she amended sarcastically, "Boxers, for the whole mission."
Great. Just great. They're pushing each others buttons in the first five minutes. However are they supposed to pass for a married couple? They can't even look each other in the eyes. "Let's do a final weapons check first, then our equipment, then we can get out of here."
"Sounds like a plan." Kim shut and zipped her smallest suitcase, then set it up on the side shelf with the rest of her stuff. Beneath it, she grabbed the silver metal briefcase and laid it on her work station table. Opening it revealed an assortment of small hand guns and other weapons. "Some girls manage to travel with lip gloss and nail polish. But no, not me. I get the privilege of traveling with Gorrath pulse blasters and Ion explosive shells."
"And yet, you still manage to look beautiful while you do it"
Neither moved a solitary muscle, seeing as how Tommy hadn't planned on saying what he said anymore than Kim ever imagined hearing it again. Silence reigned supreme as the tension threatened to choke the very air from the ship. That one word, 'Beautiful' held so many fond memories and a beginning for them as a couple, once upon a time. Now it simply served as a harsh reminder of how things have changed over the years.
How their love... died.
Biting the inside of his lip, Tommy pushed forward. "Okay, I've got the pulse blaster chargers with me, so when we run out of battery packs we can recharge them over night." He quickly loaded them into a large gray duffle bag.
Kimberly finished counting her stash before placing them in a black duffle bag. "We have twenty-five pulse blaster batteries, each good for fifty shots. Let's hope we don't get into a prolonged gunfight, but if we do, we'll be ready."
"From your mouth to God's ears."
Kim sincerely hoped so. "How are we on plastic explosives?"
"Twenty pounds worth. Shouldn't be a problem."
"Six vials and ten hypothermic needles."
"Master keys for all doors and locks?"
"Three. Nothing will be locked to us."
"Knock out darts?"
"Knock out gas dispensers?"
"Miniature listening devices?"
"Nine, with ten mile transceivers."
"Eight, in four different sizes."
"Two Dell Inspiron XPS Gen 2 laptops with untraceable ISP addresses."
"I have Benjamin and Kelis Fords drivers licenses, Social Security cards, and Firearms licenses." Tommy handed Kim hers, then slipped his in his wallet. "We're good to go."
"What did Ms. Calister give us in the way of money?"
"While you were talking with your boyfriend," Tommy began with his back turned, "I picked up our Visa, MasterCard, and American Express credit cards with limits of 8.000 on each. We're liquid for 15.000 cash as well." Tommy held up a large plain white envelope with many hundred dollar bills inside. "We have three separate bank accounts at Capitol One Bank totaling 36.000.000, and a offshore account at Division Services, a Cayman Islands bank with another 20.000.000 deposited there."
That 'boyfriend' comment didn't go unnoticed, nor did the way he spat it out with disgust. Whatever was that about, Kimberly pondered thoughtfully. "Looks like we're all set. Let's get this show on the road." Walking the short distance to the cockpit with Tommy trailing behind her, Kimberly climbed in the pilot's chair, strapped herself in, and pulled her communications ear piece in place. She ignited the 'Mach-One's engines while Tommy strapped himself in and did a quick diagnostics test. "Hanger 12, this is Agent Kimberly Ann Hart requesting permission for the Mach-One to leave Hanger 12, over."
'Agent Hart, please give me your mission code.'
"Mission Code 198GC-Alpha Firefox."
'Agent Hart, permission granted. The hanger doors will open momentarily. Please stand by.'
Finishing his quick systems check, Tommy saw that everything was fine on his end. Communications and radar were both online, and their weapons systems were activated, just incase. Peering up, bright sunshine illuminated the huge hanger bay as the humongous doors parted. "We're all set, Kim."
'Agents Hart and Oliver, you're cleared to leave. Have a safe flight. Good luck.'
"Thanks. We'll need it." Kimberly engaged the controls as the Mach-One's engines lifted off the ground, then roared to life as the mid-sized craft flew forward, up and out with a loud boom as it departed the Command Centers Hanger 12.
Kimberly steered the craft skyward, hitting her top speed in five seconds flat as another California sunset greeted her for perhaps the last time in a long time. "We'll touch down in Silver Cliff inside of three hours. What's the name of the cemetery we're landing at?"
"Assumption Cemetery," Tommy replied while perusing a detailed map on the monitor in front of him, "Right off of Highway 96 and Mill Street. It's supposed to be a pretty desolate area, not far from the mountains. It's also known for the ghost lights."
"Gho... ghost lights?"
Tommy smiled at her slight stutter. "Yeah, strange as that sounds. Legend has it the restless souls of the old miners who used to work in the area are said to dance among the tombstones. Unsolved Mysteries once did a show about the cemetery because of all the sightings?"
"Wonderful. Just wonderful," Kim shook her head.
"I forgot, you don't like ghosts."
"It's not that I don't like them. It's that..."
"You don't like them," he asserted again, grinning at her. "Ghost movies used to scare you."
"That was a long time ago."
"And you're telling me that's changed?" He watched her lick her lips as they curled into a knowing smile. "Exactly."
"Oh hush. I've stared down all forms of alien creature and possessed items turned into fifty-foot tall monsters. I am not afraid of ghosts."
"Whatever you say."
He could always see through her so easily, and it both amused and worried Kim that it seemed to still be the case. As if sitting here so close to him wasn't already playing havoc with her senses. In the back of her mind it was like she could hear a old clock counting down... an eventual moment years in the making that she's still not sure she's ready for.
"Okay, I'm initiating the cloaking device now. If by some chance the Darkness are monitoring the area with alien radar technology they still won't see us. Not with the naked eye or otherwise." With a few buttons and commands prompted, Tommy looked through the glass bubble hub at the chrome wings of the ship. It's arrow-like design shimmered, and then slowly faded away, as if a mirrors reflection. "Did Janine tell you what kind of rental car she has for us?"
Kimberly set her commands, then the auto pilot. She sat back, titling her head toward Tommy. "A black 2002 Jeep Grand Cherokee, parked behind the tombstones nearest to the cemeteries exit. A Avis Car Rental paper trail from Pueblo, Colorado where our supposed plane flight landed is already in place. The keys are under the front tire, so we'll lift it and be on our way."
"Ah, the wonders of a little super strength due to our daily injections."
"Courtesy of our royally screwed up DNA and radioactive genes. Then again, it still can't make me taller." She's only come to realize now how badly she's missed his laughter, and that gentle smile of his. "It's been a long time, Tommy."
There's no such thing as perfect timing, so Tommy figured it was now or never, exhaling a deep breath. "Yeah, you're right about that."
They didn't need to elaborate. A friendship that never was can't spring forth out of nowhere. Kimberly longed for the right words to ease the tension between then. Tension she's let fester for far to long. "We're stuck together for the next couple of hours and we're going to have to talk."
"We used to be so close," Kimberly forced herself to admit, biting back an old pain. "We've never... we've avoided... look, I know I have never extended an olive branch."
"Neither have I, Kim." The last thing he wanted was for her to take all the blame. Especially with his part in things. "We should have talked after the whole Divatox affair. I should have made time to talk to you, and I didn't. I'm ashamed to say that on some level I wanted to punish you with my silence. I'm not proud of that."
"I've done the same thing to you over the years. I'm no more or less guilty. I could have picked up a phone at any time."
Tommy faced her, at last ready for the answers that have eluded him... and cost him the young love of his life. "Look, why don't we start from the beginning."
"... the letter." Suddenly, she can't look at him, but forced herself anyway because that was the mature thing to do. It didn't matter that they were so young or how many years ago it was. They were in love and he deserved the truth. He deserved better than she gave him. "I've dreaded ever having this discussion with you."
"So have I."
Where to begin? And why did this all affect her so deeply still, after all these years? "Ask me anything you want and I'll answer. Nothing's off the table."
Nights without end, he's lost sleep over the loss of her, and all that he'd hoped for once upon a time. Her beautiful brown eyes focused on him as she mustered up all her courage for this confrontation. Did she know he was doing the same? "Did you fall out of love with me?"
Such a strong pull as their eyes locked, captive, and refused to let go. "No. Never." Suddenly, she felt too exposed. As if she revealed far to much of what she's worked so hard to bury. "I didn't write the letter because I fell out of love with you, or anything you did. I never fell out of love with you, Tommy."
He'd kill to be able to read her mind, or for the courage to ask what he won't. "Then why did you write it? Was there another guy?"
"Yes, there was another guy." Judging by the somberness of his eyes, Kim felt as if he'd hoped for years there weren't. For some reason that surprises her. "His name was Jacob Ryan," she began at long last. "I had been living and working twelve hours a day for almost a year at the compound. I was away from my parents, all my family, my friends... you," she whispered at the end. "I didn't make friends easy for the first time in my life. I was surprised at the intensity everyone there walked around with every day. It wasn't fun, it was business. But it was also my fondest dream. Making the Pan-Global team and representing my country while doing what I loved to do became my first, last, and only priority."
Tommy listened closely as she bared her soul, and his own.
"So there I was, nine months into my training and I had one girl-friend, who was more into her boyfriend and their drama than really connecting with me. I missed you so badly, Tommy. You'll never know how much I missed you."
"I missed you just the same," he painfully confessed as she continued.
"I used to come home late and watch the news, praying that you and the other Rangers were safe. I lived for your letters and loved writing you back, but it became harder to hide what I was going through when we talked on the phone because I knew you had your own stress to deal with."
"You could have shared anything with me."
"Deep down I knew that, but I was 17, scared, lonely, and depressed. I couldn't see past my own life, and then I met Jacob. He was training for the track and field events. We were at a popular hang out for all the Pan-Global hopefuls and started talking one night. That led to us taking a walk." Stark emotion drained from his face as he turned away from her. Just how deep did their love once run for the pain to still hurt so bad? "I never, ever meant or wanted to hurt you, Tommy. But I understand if you don't believe that."
"Did you fall in love with him?"
"At the time I thought I did. He was away from home and as lonely as I was. Like me, he was on the outside of making the team, so we understood each others struggles. We were there for each other."
"I would have been there for you."
"How could you have been? You were finishing high school while learning how to use the new ZEO Ranger powers and fighting off the Machine Empire."
"You didn't give me a chance, Kim."
"I made some bad decisions, Tommy. I was young, lonely, and just wanted to not have so much to deal with in my life. I felt terrible for not being as close to all my friends as I used to be. I missed being a Ranger. I hated not being by your side. I loved you so much and that never changed."
... there's a moment... a gentle moment in which he longed to reach for her... and she longed for him to close that distance... but no one moved... they barely breathed at all.
Fighting back a wave of emotion she wished she could sweep under a rug titled 'Fleeting Teenage Romance', Kim had to see this through to the end. "Jacob and I spent more time together, and it felt so good to not feel so alone. He was easy to talk to and was more than willing to listen. He never pushed for sex or anything, and I was so grateful for that seeing as how so many other boys around the compound were pressuring the girls they were interested in. I developed feelings for him that at the time I thought were deeper than they truly were. I also felt a little jealous of Katherine spending so much time with you and the way you spoke about her in your letters."
"I never cheated on you. Not one time."
"I believe you. I just wasn't happy, so I..." And here it is. The truth, at last, after all this time. The simple stupid truth. "I wrote the letter because I felt I was living one life while holding onto another, and I couldn't seem to make either work, so I made a choice to cut one loose."
"To cut me loose," Tommy asserted as his gaze fell, exhaling a breath he didn't know he was holding.
"It broke my heart."
"Then what do you think it did to mine?"
The edge to his voice didn't go unnoticed. Truthfully, she expected worse. She could live with his scorn, just not his hate. "I cried every second of every minute it took me to write that stupid letter. I couldn't even remember what I wrote after I folded and sealed it in a envelope. I was so scared to send it to your house because I didn't want your parents to hate me. Believe me, I know how dumb that sounds."
"You humiliated me by sending it to the Youth Center."
She felt fragile under the heat of his angry stare. "I am sincerely sorry."
A lifetime ago they were so in love, so young and filled with all the hope that comes with it. Then it all slipped away, like sand in a hour glass, leaving them with nothing at all.
"I never hated you."
Kimberly said weakly, "You had every reason too."
"But I never did."
How could he simultaneously feel opposite ends of the emotional spectrum for this woman? A woman he hasn't held in years. Hasn't kissed in a lifetime. "Did he make you happy?"
"He made me feel not so alone. At the time that was as happy as I wanted to be."
"Did you miss me afterwards?"
"Everyday." Bursting through the clouds ahead, the sun began it's natural dip as light faded to a dimmer in the distance. The vast nothingness of the sky laid before them. "Did you miss me?"
"... I still do."
Before she could respond a strong rubble of turbulence shook the plane violently, as both Tommy and Kim heard something crash loudly in the back of the plane.
Quickly unbuckling his seat belt, Tommy stood first. "I'll check it out."
"I'm coming with you." Kim followed close behind as they soon discovered the source of the crash. Kim's weapons briefcase fell off the workstation and a couple of items spilled out. "My bad."
"No big deal. I'll help you..."
Another strong jolt of turbulence rocked the mid-sized ship so hard it wrenched sideways before settling itself, but not before Tommy was flung into Kimberly as both fell to the floor with him lying on top of her... face to face... nestled in the cradle of her slim thighs... staring hopelessly at what was, and all they've lost and never claimed.
Precious seconds flew by in a symphony of intimacy. Her lips trembled from being so close to his again, as her body warmed against her better judgment from the solid strong feel of his pressed down on her. Tommy could not blink, for if he did he feared she'd fade away and this would all be another dream.
The moment crackled with heat, searing the very air around them as emotions took flight, heart over head. Without thinking, Tommy's slowly descended as Kimberly arched her neck to meet him, the briefest brush of lips before...
'Agents Hart and Oliver. This is Command Center HANGER 12. We wanted to warn you about some possible rough turbulence in your area. Please respond.'
They moved so quickly away from each other you would have thought they were enemies... both gasping for air, unable to look the others way. Kimberly ran her fingers through her hair, smoothing it down as she willed her legs to work again. Tommy felt relieved to be in a crouched position to hide her affect on his body. Neither could forgot that brief second of bliss when their lips touched again... paradise lost, and found anew.
"I'll, uh... I'll answer them. If you don't mind would you get that stuff off the floor for me?"
Tommy nodded, as Kim swiftly left the back area, almost running. For the one hundredth time today he told himself this mission just might drive him crazy. Shutting his eyes to his true feelings, even in the dark he could see her... feel her... and dammit, he still wanted her.
The End of Chapter 1