Disclaimer: It's the standard drill: Saban's characters are Saban's --I'm just borrowing them for my own nefarious purposes (which, unfortunately, doesn't include profit)-- and my characters are mine. I also need to note that a lot of the inspiration for the world of Threa and it's inhabitants come from Wendi and Richard Pini's incredible Elfquest series (if you've never read it but love fantasy and awesome artwork, I highly recommend it). Also, there are touches from The Uncanny X-Men from the early days of Phoenix and the Shi'ar Empire. (Shame on you comic fans if you don't catch the references.)
This is a story that's been creeping about the corners of my brain for a good long while, and it's taken all this time to be inspired enough to do it justice. Oh, and the story opens shortly after the Turbo movie. CR November 2000/Sept. 2002From The Ashes
by Cheryl Roberts
"Ashes to ashes; dust to dust."
Tommy barely heard the minister's words as he stood at the grave side of the woman he loved and would never forget.
Kimberly Ann Hart.
He was numb as the other mourners walked past, some placing flowers on the casket, others offering condolences to Kim's family and to him. Mrs. Hart (he'd never remember to call her by her new married name) had asked him if he'd like to stand with the family, saying Kimberly would have wanted it that way. He couldn't tell if Mrs. Hart knew about the letter or not.
In any event, Tommy had accepted the generous offer.
He remained stolid, unmoved, until the first of his friends had come forward: Jason. His best friend wrapped him in a fierce hug that threatened to crack his ribs. Jason's pain was as acute as his own. Tommy nearly lost his composure.
Trini was next. He could not ever recall seeing her cry; now, salty rivers streamed down her cheeks. He held Kim's best friend for a long while before she was able to let go.
They were all there, Rangers past and present. Even Billy had returned from Aquitar upon hearing the grievous news. And Tommy knew that Zordon and Alpha were watching as well. No doubt other eyes observed from afar, gloating over the loss of the spirited original Pink Ranger. However, she hadn't fallen in battle at the hands of their enemies. Natural causes, the coroner had said; she had died peacefully –albeit inexplicably– in her sleep.
It took him a moment to realize he was being spoken to. He looked up to find Katherine regarding him with concern.
"It's time to go," she said quietly.
It was only then that Tommy noticed that both of Kim's parents had headed towards their cars and that the other mourners had begun to disperse. He looked to his girlfriend, her eyes full of sympathy. She, better than anyone, knew what Kim still meant to him --would always mean to him, and she loved him in spite of that. There were days when he felt he truly didn't deserve that love.
"If you don't mind, I'd like to stay for a while longer. I need some time --alone," he choked out, his composure more precarious than he wanted to admit.
"I understand." A slender, pale hand gave his arm a reassuring squeeze, and she offered him a peck on the cheek.
Tommy was motionless as the graceful blonde caught up with the rest of their teammates. At last, he was alone with his grief. He approached the casket, laying a hand on the cool, polished surface. There were flowers strewn everywhere; a lot of people had come to say their final good-byes. From inside his coat, Tommy plucked a pink rosebud.
"Hey, Beautiful," he murmured, his voice cracking; a tear finally slipped free of his iron control. He laid the flower at the head of the casket. "I know this really isn't you here –just some clone, but I also know that she'd still be alive if you were."
He closed his eyes as memories surged forward, taking him back to a day not too long after he'd received Kimberly's letter....
Tommy had absolutely no desire to get out of bed. It was dark and warm and comfortable. It was Saturday; his folks had no plans. The gang had no plans. There was no reason to get out of bed, so he simply didn't.
I am not sulking, he insisted to himself, trying not to think about the fact that Kimberly, his girlfriend of two years, had ended their relationship in a cold-hearted letter, telling him she had found someone else. He and Kim had never made any promises to wait, never exchanged class rings or anything. Even so, it had always felt to him that they'd be together forever. From the first time he'd looked into those soft brown eyes of hers....
Almost every day since her letter had arrived (she didn't even have the decency to break my heart in person, let alone in private!), he found himself wondering what had gone wrong and wishing that it didn't have to hurt so much.
Even after all this time, it was still hard maintaining a brave face in front of the others. He knew they meant well with their sympathy, but sometimes it set his teeth on edge to glimpse the pity in their eyes. At times, it was more than he could bear. Like now.
So, he wasn't particularly thrilled when his communicator chime sounded.
Biting back a groan, he responded, "Yes, Zordon?"
"As soon as you are awake and dressed, report to the Power Chamber," Zordon ordered.
"Will do," was his lackluster confirmation. However, he had to admit to being puzzled. What was up? Obviously, it wasn't a dire emergency; otherwise, he wouldn't have been given time to get dressed. Still, he had detected a note of urgency in their mentor's command. Out of curiosity as much as out of habit, Tommy obeyed, dressing quickly and teleporting out.
When he arrived at their headquarters, he found Adam, Billy and Rocky already assembled.
"Where are Kat and Tanya?" he queried, noting the female Rangers' absences.
"This is not a matter in which they can help," Zordon replied, further piquing Tommy's interest.
"What is this about?" Billy asked.
"I will allow our guest to explain. All that I ask is that you listen to her plea with open minds."
At that, the four turned, spying a heretofore unnoticed figure standing in the shadows. At their leader's unorthodox introduction, she stepped forward.
The first thing that struck Tommy was how petite their guest was. She couldn't have been any taller than Tanya, even with her heels, and in spite of her armor, she was still slender. Though small, there was something about the woman that told Tommy she was not to be underestimated. Her white and silver armor with it's winged epaulets and flared gauntlets at the wrists and knees, her ornate helmet and shimmering, rose-colored, cape indicated that her garb was ceremonial, but the sword at her hip looked battle tested. There was an emblem on her breastplate... a bird of some sort, but Tommy couldn't quite make it out. And she carried herself with the air of one used to commanding others' respect –through having earned it, not by being born to it, though he couldn't have said how he made that distinction. It was just a feeling....
"The people of Threa call me Imbera; I am to them what Zordon is to you," the armored woman began. She paced before the quartet anxiously. "Threa is almost a negative image of Earth, existing in the same space but in another dimension. Our peoples cannot exist on each other's worlds without employing artificial means."
Which explained the iridescent aura Tommy detected flickering closely about her.
"I was born of this Earth; however, the previous Imbera of Threa was in need of assistance from one of this world to help in the fight against Norzod and his minions. For reasons too lengthy to explain at this juncture, I was deemed a suitable candidate, and once I'd heard Atir's plea, I could not refuse to help. Their shapers altered my genetic structure so that I wouldn't be dependent upon –and be handicapped by– a mechanical shield, and I was imbued with powers not unlike those of your Morphin' Grid.
"I was assured that once the battle was over, I would be restored to my original state and returned to Earth. Those assurances were critical in my acceptance. However, in the last battle, Atir died; in her final moments, she invested me with her cosmic powers, which was possible due to my dual genetic structure. There was no time and no other choice. With those powers, I and my teammates were able to stop Norzod.
"When all was settled, it was time for me to return home. There were... complications."
At last, the interdimensional visitor paused as if gathering herself to continue.
"Thanks to the Imbera powers, my genetic structure could not be reconfigured as long as I held them. We also discovered that I could not pass those powers to anyone else as Atir had given them to me. I needed to pass them on to someone with a genetic pattern similar to mine... in short, they could only be passed on to my child. And while I was altered to be able to exist on Threa, those alterations did not include the reproductive system; I am biologically incompatible with my teammates.
"I can no longer return to Earth, either," she sighed heavily. "Again, another miscalculation.... Time passes differently between the two dimensions. Months have passed on Earth since I left while decades have passed on Threa.
"However, I still need an heir to pass my powers onto. Norzod is not destroyed. He may return, and I cannot allow Threa to be without an Imbera, even though I have taken steps to insure that she will always have her protectors. I have come to you to ask if one of you would consent to be the father of my child."
"Excuse me?" Rocky gulped, the only interruption of the woman's tale.
"I need a Terran male to sire my child," the Imbera reiterated. "That would provide my child with the necessary genetic background to be able to wield my powers. Plus, the babe's structure could be adapted for full compatibility with Threans before he or she is exposed the powers. The healers and shapers feel that a father who has been exposed to powers similar to ours –like your Morphin' powers– would enable the child to better wield the Imbera powers. Zordon has graciously allowed me to present my plea to you.
"Threa needs her defender. Will you help me?"
Four pairs of eyes turned towards their mentor.
"The Imbera speaks the truth, Rangers. I have conducted my own scans, and they bear her out. Threa needs our help, but this is not something I can order you to do," the Eltarian said.
"What, exactly, would we need to do?" Billy asked.
"Scans would need to be run on those who are willing to determine compatibility," Zordon elaborated. "From there, the Imbera has asked that, if more than one candidate is acceptable, I select the final donor."
"Donor... sperm donor," Adam realized.
"Correct. The Imbera cannot risk a prolonged lowering of her shields as she can no longer survive in Earth's atmosphere. The sperm would have to be introduced into her womb by the quickest means available."
"We've already established that I am at peak fertility this day," the woman interjected, somewhat self-consciously. "Conception should not be a problem."
"What if none of us is compatible... or willing?" Tommy wondered.
"If none are compatible or willing, I will contact Jason and Zachary. And if we meet failure or refusal there, we shall seek out a non-powered donor," Zordon concluded.
"Would you mind if we discussed this amongst ourselves?" Tommy requested, off balance and needing some time to digest all he'd just heard.
"Of course," the Imbera answered. "This is not a decision to be made lightly –nor was the decision to ask you. I realize that I am asking you to create a child that you, in all probability, will never see."
Tommy gestured for the others to follow, and they headed outside the Power Chamber.
"Is she for real?" Rocky blurted out.
"According to Zordon, she is," Adam said.
"I don't know about the rest of you, but I'm willing to help out, if I can," Billy remarked.
"Why?" Tommy asked, genuinely curious. He was rather ambivalent about complying. He had strong feelings about the subject of family. Creating a child he would never see --never know-- and just as importantly, would never know him --just as he had never known his birth parents....
"Threa needs our help. The Imbera needs our help."
"She can't return home. She can't connect with her new people. This child would be all she has," Adam realized.
"A child bred to be a warrior... raised to fight and hold a great power...." Tommy pointed out.
"... to keep the peace... to safeguard a planet," Rocky added. "Count me in."
"At this juncture, all we're doing is agreeing to be tested," Billy cautioned.
"I'll go through with the testing at least," Adam agreed.
His companions turned to Tommy expectantly, and he sighed resignedly. "All right. Zordon can check me out, but I won't promise beyond that."
As the Ranger men turned back to their command post, Billy hung back to walk beside their team leader.
"What's wrong?" he asked of the Red Ranger. "This reluctance to help isn't like you. This wouldn't have anything to do with what happened between you and Kimberly, would it?"
"I don't know. Maybe," Tommy answered grudgingly. "Kim and I talked about getting married... having kids.... I always wanted to have a family of my own."
"I can respect that, but helping the Imbera won't destroy that dream."
"Yeah, but if I'm the one selected and I go through with it, I'll always wonder...."
"We all will, Tommy, but we'll also know that somewhere a part of us is insuring the safety of an entire planet, even as we protect the Earth. That's a legacy anyone would be proud of."
All four agreed to the testing --the most exhausting series of bioscans they'd ever undergone. While they waited for the results, Tommy had hoped to talk further with the Imbera, but she had retreated to the privacy of Zordon's personal chambers, saying she did not wish to influence the outcome in any way.
They were all anxious. Even Rocky was unusually silent. As they waited, Tommy realized that one of them was on the verge of being a father –even himself. He knew deep down that he would not refuse should he be the one chosen. He also knew that none of them would hold it against the others if he wasn't selected.
To pass the time, Billy had called up all that Zordon's data banks had on Threa. There wasn't much, but what there was was a little disconcerting. As the Imbera said, her adopted world was a negative image of Earth. It was strange seeing oceans where continents had been and vice versa. It was more of a green/brown marble in space than a blue one.
Zordon's unexpected summons had them all jumping.
"I have the results."
The young men quickly assembled before their mentor.
"Of the four of you, two pose the best biological matches," the Eltarian began. "Adam and Tommy."
There was no undue celebration of the fact, merely the nodding of heads in acknowledgment.
"All things being equal at the biological level, it is my opinion that Tommy, due to his greater and more varied exposure to the Morphin' Grid, would be the better candidate. What shall I tell the Imbera?"
"I'll help her," Tommy replied.
"A difficult decision. Both she and I thank you." Zordon then turned his attention to the other three Rangers. "The final preparations will take some time. It would be best if you returned to Angel Grove lest King Mondo try to take advantage of your absence."
"Right, Zordon," Adam confirmed.
"May we tell Tanya and Kat what's going on?" Billy queried, looking from Zordon to Tommy.
"Yeah, they should know –just in case," Tommy answered.
"Good luck," Rocky called out as the three dematerialized.
"Okay, Zordon. What do I have to do?" Tommy asked, finding the idea of going into the restroom and filling a jar a bit unsettling for some reason. It seemed so... cold. Impersonal. It didn't seem right somehow.
"Actually, Tommy, I believe it would be advisable for you and the Imbera to discuss this first," Zordon recommended.
"All right," he agreed, a little more relieved, though he couldn't say why.
"Also, should you both prefer, there is a way for conception to take place in the more usual manner. You and the Imbera can be teleported into the Morphin' Grid. There, beyond time and space, she would be able to exist with out her armor and personal shield."
"Thanks... I think," Tommy mumbled dubiously, not sure why Zordon even mentioned it. He couldn't imagine going that far to help.
Tommy proceeded to Zordon's meditation chamber and found the distraught woman pacing, ringing her hands. She had abandoned her shimmering cape. Somehow, she seemed less intimidating. She looked like someone desperately in need of comfort, as if she'd borne a great burden alone for a long time.
"Imbera," he began, his voice sounding somewhat timid due to his nervousness, "Zordon finished the testing, and I'd be honored to help you out."
"Thank you." Her voice trembled as she spoke.
Tommy couldn't be certain, but he could have sworn that she had murmured, "I hoped it would be you," under her breath. Instead of pursuing that, he went on, "Zordon thought we might want to talk before hand...."
"... and you'd like to know more about the woman who will be the mother of your child," she completed for him, but there was no reticence in her voice. "I can't say that I blame you."
"I figured you'd want to know more about me, too," he said, puzzled.
"I know more about you, Tommy, than you can imagine," she responded cryptically.
Though feeling decidedly off balance, Tommy proceeded with his questions. "Would you tell me who you were on Earth and what you were like? I know it doesn't matter since I'll never see you again, but I'd like to know."
"Who was I?" Her words trailed off as she reached for the buckles on her helmet.
Tommy found himself looking for a seat as his knees grew weak when the concealing face mask was pulled aside. Though thirty or so years older, hair streaked with early traces of gray and worry lines creasing the corners of her eyes, there was no mistaking his former girlfriend.
"K-Kimberly?" he stammered, at last slumping into a chair.
"Hi, Tommy," she murmured, tears gathering in her eyes. Neither could move or speak for several moments. Then Kim rasped out, "I've dreamed for so long... but I never thought I'd see you again. Oh, God, Tommy, I've missed you!"
"What... how...?" he sputtered, his mind reeling. Dimly, he realized that if Zordon had scanned her, he had to have known... why hadn't he said anything?
Kimberly knelt on the floor before him and took his hands. Numbly, Tommy realized that he wasn't feeling her gloves; her energy field completely enveloped her like a second skin. He wanted to draw his hands away in horror, but he hadn't the strength –not after peering into the depths of Kim's eyes. The enormity of the pain and loneliness therein was staggering.
"It's complicated, Tommy," she began with a sigh. "It all started on my plane ride back to Florida after Christmas. One minute, everything was normal, and the next, everything had stopped –except for me. Then, Atir appeared, asking for my help. She explained about Threa and her Rangers and what prompted her to seek me out.
"In Threa's universe, Zordon is evil –Norzod, and his minions were our evil twins. I didn't figure out until later that Atir was Rita's duplicate. What had made her come to our universe in search of help was that Norzod had killed her Pink Ranger, and without all the powers balanced, the rest of her Rangers were in danger. There wasn't time to train a replacement, so she searched the multiverse for other Pink Rangers. I was perfect. Not only was I a retired Ranger, but I was familiar with how Norzod's minions thought and fought.
"Even before Atir told me about the clone and the possibility of returning home, I'd pretty much decided to help. Any of us would have done the same. I also found out that if I'd turned her down, she'd have approached all of the retired Rangers, even the guys."
"What's this about a clone?" Tommy asked.
"It was Aitr's way of insuring that my life wasn't interrupted any more than necessary. The clone would take my place on Earth until such time as I could be returned. Sahr, the Blue Ranger, D'Ez --Atir's right hand man, and a team of Threan shapers created my duplicate before altering my genes so I could live in their dimension. They also established a psychic link between the two of us so that the clone could know what I did and I'd be able to experience 'my' life through her."
"So, what happened? What went wrong?" Tommy was beginning to understand the situation. Kim had been right; given the same set of circumstances, he would have done the same thing.
"Nothing was supposed to be irreversible, in spite of the fact that it was difficult for the shapers to change me. Human tissue is not as malleable as Threan," Kim continued, her voice thick with emotion. "Atir was already training a new Pink Ranger to take my place. Then, Norzod captured the Imbera. We were all linked through her –like she was connected to the Morphin' Grid directly then filtered the powers to us. We could feel everything Norzod did to her. God, Tommy, for as good as Zordon is, his duplicate was that evil. Zedd and Rita have nothing on him.
"We tried to rescue her, but.... When we found her, she was dying. She had to transfer the Imbera powers before she died, otherwise we'd all be lost. I was the most receptive candidate, and I told her to give them to me.
"It was too much power," Kim said quietly, closing her eyes at the memory.
Tommy could feel her anguish and pulled her into his arms just as he would have once upon a time.
"It's a wonder I didn't die. I felt like I had exploded. I felt as if all the energy in the universe had been funneled into me. I was lost... drowning. I lost control.... I don't remember much, just struggling to keep from losing myself in it all. I have you and Jason and all those things you taught the rest of us about meditation and focus to thank for surviving that; though afterwards, there were days when I wish I had died.
"When all the fireworks had died down, we discovered that Norzod had escaped, but his dark Rangers were toast. After that, that's when I wanted out, but I couldn't leave until I gave up Atir's powers.
"It took months to find someone who could possibly host the Imbera powers, and then we discovered that I couldn't transfer them as Atir had. Thanks to a combination of being from another dimension, holding several levels of Pink Ranger Powers, being genetically altered and my actually having used the Imbera powers, the powers were bonded to me –attuned to my genetic structure. The only way I could be rid of them was to pass them on to my child. At the same time, we discovered just how drastic the time flow was between our dimensions. An hour on Earth is the equivalent of five days on Threa. I had aged years already, but my clone hadn't. D'Ez, suggested transferring my consciousness into the clone or even cloning me a new body, but since I wasn't a natuarl-born telepath, there was a danger that my consciousness would be lost. There was no way I could return to Earth.
"So there I was. I had a power I didn't want. I couldn't go home. I'd never see your or my family again except through the eyes of my duplicate. I was miserable. Then, Norzod returned.
"I won't go into the bloody details... just that we managed to imprison him in another dimension. He'll be back; we all know it, so I've taken steps to make sure Threa will be safe. I've started a school to train new Rangers. The only matter left is that of my eventual successor."
She hung her head, embarrassed.
"Tommy, through all of this, I never stopped loving you or hoping I'd be reunited with you," she said earnestly, gazing at him as if willing him to accept her words. "I never wanted anyone else to be my lover or husband. We tried sperm donors... invitro fertilization, and every sort of method known to Threan science. When all that failed, we had to try the natural method."
"So, you're married?" Tommy gulped, thinking he had figured out at last why she sent the letter.
"No, I'm not," she smiled amid her blush. "Threan marriage customs are quite different from ours. There are three types of relationships: heartbonds, lifebonds and matebonds. Heartbonds are lovers. Lifebonds are what we'd call being married. Mate-bonding is a purely biological drive; one can mate-bond without being heartbound or lifebound. What I'm trying to say is that I tried mate-bonding with several of my teammates. I've had... lovers."
"Oh," Tommy muttered quietly.
"I'm sorry, Tommy," Kim whispered, tears filling her eyes. "I never wanted to betray you like this, but I had no choice. I had to try whatever I could...."
"It's all right, Kim," he soothed, trying hard to hide his feelings. While he understood why she had done what she did, it still hurt.
"I did tell them that I was already lifebonded, though," she quickly added, "so we tried to keep my mate-bonding 'in the family' as it were; I paired up with just my teammates. But when that failed, we started talking about widening the search; then Sahr and Ree –think Billy and Trini but as a couple– discovered that I'd never be able to have a child with a Threan father; I didn't have the mental component to trigger the link that's essential in Threan procreation. Threans have extremely long lifespans, so they don't reproduce as humans do; in fact, Threan children are very rare.
"Finally, we came to the conclusion that I'd have to return home somehow and find a human to father my child."
"Thirty years, Tommy," she said at last. "For you, it's been about three months since you last saw me at Christmas. For me, it's been three decades since I last saw you."
At that point, Kim lost her composure and sobbed in Tommy's arms.
When the emotional storm had abated somewhat, Tommy at last ventured the one question he most wanted answered and most dreaded asking.
"Why the letter?" he forced himself to query. "If you still loved me... if you could still live through the clone, why'd you break up with me? Or was that the clone's idea?"
"While she's capable of independent thought, the letter was my idea."
"Would you want to watch someone else –even a copy of yourself– live the life you should have had? Trust me; it's sheer torture," Kim asserted. "But the truth of the matter is, I wanted to make you angry with me –angry enough to cut me out of your life so that you wouldn't be hurt when the clone dies."
"What do you mean?" Tommy asked with mounting trepidation.
"The clone and I share more than a psychic link. I'm her lifeline. She'll live only as long as I do. Tommy, I'm almost fifty now; in another five Earth months, I'll be one hundred –if I live that long. I could very well die in battle before that, or I could hang around for years, but I seriously doubt I'll last much longer than a full Earth year.
"Tommy, if you feel for me what I feel for you, you'd be devastated. You'd almost want to die yourself. I didn't want you to have to face that."
"You think I wouldn't in spite of everything? I wanted to die when I got your letter," he asserted.
"I'm sorry," she apologized. "Do you think it was easy for me to make that decision?"
"No... oh, God, Kim...." It was his turn to cling to her until his emotional storm had passed.
"I love you, Tommy; I always will," she vowed.
"Same here, Beautiful." He wanted to kiss her but the force field prevented him.
"But you have to let me go," she said. "After today, I probably won't ever be able to return. I'll never see you again."
"Yes, you will. Every time you look at our child," he replied.
"And we won't even be able to create him together –just through a cup and an injection," Kim sighed, bitterly disappointed. "I knew that going into this, but I wish...." Her cheeks flared with a blush at what she wished.
Tommy blushed for the exact same reason. Then he recalled Zordon's words and smiled. He exclaimed, "There is a way!"
"Zordon said there was a way that we could get together as 'nature intended' in the Morphin' Grid."
"In the Grid? Tommy, that can be very dangerous. After thirty years of filling the equivalent of Zordon's shoes, I probably know about as much as Billy does about the Morphin' Grid, and...."
"Please, Kim; let's try," Tommy implored her. "I'd always hoped that someday we'd be married... have a family.... If we can't have that, then I'll settle for being mate-bonded or lifebonded or whatever you call it," he proposed.
And she accepted.
* * *
That had been –what?-- over a year ago? He never forgot the timeless span they'd spent suspended in the Morphin' Grid: the things that Kim had taught him... the things that they had shared... but most importantly, the fact that when Kim had left, she had been carrying their child.
Did we have a son or daughter? Tommy wondered as he gazed at the flower strewn casket. Doing the math, he figured that if an earth month was equal to 10 Threan years, his child would be well over 120 years... closer to 160, if he or she lived that long. Kim never said what a Threan's life span was.
He had once asked Zordon if there was any way to check on Kim, but the dimensional interference proved to be too great. Earth's proximity to Threa made scanning difficult. So Tommy had been forced to carry on in ignorance.
He never told the others the truth about the Imbera or that he'd been anything more than a donor. He had wanted to be faithful to his vow to Kimberly... in his heart he regarded them as a married couple, but Kim had been adamant that he try to find someone else... to find a heartbond as the Threans viewed it. She wanted to know that he'd be all right, that he'd find happiness. So he'd told her about Kat and how she'd helped him through the worst of the hurt in the wake of the letter and how he thought he was beginning to develop feelings for her. He'd seen the momentary flash of hurt in Kimberly's eyes when she listened to his words, though she had tried hard to hide it, but she gave him her blessing. She thought that he and Kat would make a good couple, and she said that it'd help her knowing that he was taken care of... that he wouldn't be lonely.
Remarkably enough, with time and Kat's incredible patience and support, he had begun to let go of Kim. He'd always love her, and he'd been up front with Kat about that, but he was able to move on. Or so he'd thought until the Muranthias mess when Divatox had kidnaped Jason and Kimberly's clone. Seeing her again, even knowing that it wasn't really Kim, had rocked his world more than he'd ever anticipated.
And now I'm a widower.
Kimberly was truly gone now, and if he truly loved her he'd do as she would have wanted: he'd grieve, then he would live.
Tommy made the monumental effort to collect himself. He could see that the cemetery workers were waiting to finish their job: that of lowering the casket into the ground.
"Good-bye, Beautiful. I'll always love you," he murmured.
He turned to join his friends and family, but something flickering in his peripheral vision brought him up short. He glanced over to a small knot of elm trees not far from the grave site. A moment ago, he could have sworn he'd seen someone standing there, but now.... Wait. There was someone there... in the shadow of the trunks.... Tommy frowned. It could have been one of the other mourners, but he didn't think so. It was June, and the person was decked out in a heavy black coat, black boots, and a hat that was pulled low over his face. It was too warm for anyone to be so bundled up. Something about him (or her, there was no telling from this distance) raised the hackles on the back of Tommy's neck.
Tommy was relatively certain that the person hadn't been there for the entirety of the grave side ceremony. One of the others would have noticed; the team had kept on alert in case unwanted guests crashed the funeral. Dimitria would have radioed if their monitors had picked up any activity from Divatox or their other foes.
Tommy cautiously took a step closer. The being in black noticed the movement but didn't pull away. If anything, he came out of concealment and approached.
"Peace, Tommy Oliver."
The voice was low, masculine, and sounded oddly familiar to Tommy. Still, he remained tensed as the man closed the distance between them and offered Tommy his hand.
"Forgive the intrusion, but I had to come. My deepest sympathies for your loss."
"Thank you," Tommy responded automatically, shaking the proffered hand. The man spoke English with an unusual formality and musically intoned accent. It was disconcerting not to be able to see the man's eyes, merely the bottom portion of his face. "I don't mean to be rude, but do I know you?"
"We have never met, but yes, you should know me."
With that, the man removed his hat, and Tommy received the shock of his life. The lined, mature face that grinned back at him boasted large brown eyes with a thick fringe of lashes, a sharp nose, and a smile that was achingly familiar. It was almost like looking into a mirror that aged him.
"A son," he whispered breathlessly, knowing to the depth of his soul that this was the child he and Kimberly had created.
The man smiled –Kim's smile– and it danced in those older eyes. He brushed a longish strand of hair –one that was more silver gray than brown– out of his eyes.
In that moment, Tommy felt decidedly light headed, and the next thing he knew, he was being helped onto a bench in the shade of the trees.
"This meeting is no less difficult for me," his son assured him, also taking a seat. "I knew you existed... heard about you all my life... and now to finally meet you...." The man regarded him critically. "Mother always told me about the time difference between our worlds. She had told me you would be young in comparison to me... my son Rill is older than you."
"You have a child?" Tommy gulped. "I'm a grandfather?"
"Children. Two sons and a third child on the way. Ayn assures me this one is a girl." The man took a steadying breath. "I imagine you have a great many questions."
"Millions of them," Tommy concurred. "I suppose I should start out with what Kim named you."
"Where are my manners? My given name is Thomas James Oliver, Junior, but Mother always called me Jamie."
Tommy was a bit surprised by the choice. He remembered telling Kim once that he wanted to name his first born after Jason.
"I was almost named Jason Thomas Oliver, but Mother said that she wanted to reserve that for my eventual half brother."
Half brother. The son he'd have with Katherine... or whoever he ultimately wound up marrying. Tommy felt a lump in his throat.
"Your mom talked about me a lot?" Tommy ventured next, a hopeful lift to his voice.
"Yes. She wanted me to know my father, even if I would never see him," Jamie explained. "She even went so far as to link our minds to share her thoughts."
"How could she do that? Kim didn't have telepathic powers," Tommy interjected.
"The Imbera powers are vast, conveying incredible abilities upon the wielder. There was little Mother could not do after a lifetime of possessing them."
"Are you the Imbera now? Was Kim able to pass the powers onto you as she'd hoped?"
That single, terse answer conveyed much to Tommy. There was a world of pain behind his son's response.
"How did Kim die?" he asked softly. Part of him really didn't want to know, but another part needed the closure the difficult answers would provide. He already had the sense that she had not gone peacefully in her sleep as her clone had.
His question, however, had profound affect on his son. Jamie's composure broke, and a look of profound sadness filled his face, barely checked tears welling in his eyes. Tommy suddenly realized that Jamie had never grieved for his mother. It had only been a matter of days since he'd heard about Kim's death, but for Jamie, she'd been gone for months already. Yet, he was the Imbera now, the mentor/leader of the Threan Rangers. He probably hadn't had time to address his grief. Tommy well knew how heavy the burden of leadership could be. Quite often, he felt as if his emotions were secondary, better kept tucked away so he could be strong for the team. There were times when he had felt that the only thing that had kept him human was Kimberly.
And he knew exactly how she'd have handled this situation. She would have pulled Jamie into her arms and let him get it all out. He didn't quite feel comfortable doing that, so he simply placed a sympathetic hand on his son's shoulder. However, Jamie turned to him and unselfconsciously threw his arms around him. Tommy held his son then and let him vent his pent up emotions.
"Thank you," Jamie said at last, drained, but his emotions under control once more.
"Any time," Tommy answered, smiling gently. Then he noticed the cemetery personnel coming towards them. Also, there were other mourners nearby. "Maybe we should take a walk and finish this conversation elsewhere."
"Agreed," Jamie replied, also noting their lack of privacy. "I was thinking, perhaps, that I should address you as 'Tommy,' at least in public. I am delighted to be able to call you father at last, but if we should be overheard, the explanations could be difficult."
"You have a point," Tommy concurred. While he liked the idea of this son he'd never known calling him 'father,' (his heart swelled with pride every time he heard the word), he did feel rather strange being addressed thusly by someone who looked like his grandfather. "I don't mind if you call me Tommy."
"It will be difficult," Jamie agreed with that all-too familiar grin. Then his expression became distant, inquisitive. "Those people watching us from the hill, are they my grandparents?"
Tommy followed his gaze to the drive at the top of the slope where the cars were parked. He saw that his mother and father were still with Kim's parents. Kat and Jason were also with them.
"Yes, they are," Tommy answered at last. "I'm going to have some explaining to do."
"I had no desire to complicate matters for you."
"It's all right; I'm used to coming up with creative explanations," the retired Ranger assured his son.
"You asked about mother's death," Jamie began with difficulty as they ambled along the neat paths through the rows of monuments. "She died in battle with Norzod --trying to save me."
Tommy could feel how much guilt was mixed in with Jamie's sadness, and he knew he'd blame himself just as much had he been in his son's shoes.
"Norzod had kidnaped me and used me to blackmail the Rangers: me for the Imbera.
"You see, I was still a civilian at that point. Mother did not want to draw any undue attention to me, lest Norzod discover my existence before I was ready to face him. She knew she could not keep me a secret forever, but she wanted me to have as normal a life as possible for as long as possible. She said she did not want me to know the kind of life she had due to her powers. So I was raised, educated and trained as any other Threan candidate to the Academy. I graduated, lifebonded and, with the aid of the healers and shapers, sired children. Yet, I always knew that someday I would inherit the Imbera powers. I thank mother for the life she gave me, but I only wish that she had given me my birthright in time for me to save her."
For the first time since he'd begun his explanation, Jamie paused, head bowed, fists clenched at his sides. His whole body trembled with the emotional storm within. Quietly, Tommy rested a hand on his shoulder and waited.
"Not only had mother's powers enabled her to share her memories of you with me, but they allowed us to share a telepathic rapport akin to the naturally occurring link that exists between Threan parents and their offspring. Through that bond, I lived her last hours.
The neo-Imbera's voice had dropped so low Tommy had to strain to hear it.
"Through her eyes I saw Sahr and Ree and the rest of mother's teammates –my family– perish while she could do nothing to stop the slaughter so long as Norzod held me. I felt every blow that fiend landed on mother when she finally faced him herself; she did little to defend herself, carefully concealing the fact that what little fight she put up disguised her attempts to free me.
"I was frantic to reach her, but I knew I would be too late. I could feel her dying even as I fought my way through Norzod's fortress. I tried to let her know that I was all right... that she should just go ahead and let Norzod taste the full force of her powers, but she claimed I was too vulnerable still.
"I do not know how she held on until I reached the surface of the asteroid, but somehow she did. When I finally arrived on the battlefield, Norzod himself was standing over her, gloating. At last, mother called on her powers –when it was too late. Norzod knew this and laughed. I could feel her summoning the whole of her abilities; she never had before. She had always been afraid of totally losing herself in their vastness. Now, she called them in their cosmic totality, holding them within until she fairly glowed like a star. Norzod stopped laughing. I don't think he had ever truly realized the full potential of the Imbera powers. Then, mother released a mighty blast, but not at Norzod. The blast hit me. It was the power transfer.
"Even though I had been prepared... knew what to expect... I very nearly did not survive the experience. Mother did all she could for me, but in those first few moments, I blasted a sizable crater in the surface of the asteroid --incinerated Norzod's citadel and every last creature within those walls. By the ancients, their death cries will remain with me until the end of my days. Unfortunately, the fiend's was not among them.
"However, Norzod had been weakened by the destruction I had wrought. Not only that, but he had been clipped by the transfer beam, and the purity of the power had been great enough to stagger him. And he made a fatal error. He assumed that the power transfer meant mother was finished, so he turned his attention to me, thinking to take advantage of my unsettled state. Mother, however, still stubbornly clung to a thread of life, and once Norzod's attention was on me, she mustered the last of her reserves and ran him through with the sharp point of a shattered crystalline spire.
"The look on his face.... Mother saw it through my eyes, and I saw her smile. Norzod's dying thoughts were open to all; he was horrified that his death came, not at the hands of the greatest power in our dimension but at the hands of one insignificant human female.
"Before his lifeless corpse struck the ground, it disintegrated, and a wave of black energy radiated out from it. By this time, I was by mother's side; I wanted to heal her, but she ordered me to contain the blast to the asteroid."
"If that blast had been loosed on your galaxy, Norzod would have ultimately won," Tommy said knowingly.
"So mother informed me," Jamie admitted defeatedly. "It was either contain the wave or save her. She died in my arms."
There were no words of comfort that Tommy could offer in that moment as the pain which lanced through him was as acute as his son's. None were needed, though, and both men paid tribute to the woman they loved with their silence.
But when the moment passed, Tommy knew that Jamie was still in need of reassurance.
"Jamie... son...." he began awkwardly, "Don't blame yourself for your mother's death. I don't." And for the first time, Tommy saw a glimmer of hope in his child's guilt-ridden eyes. "I know it may not mean much to you now, but you made the right choice. I'd have done the same thing you did, and afterwards, I'd have felt the same way you do: that you'd failed Kimberly.
"But you didn't fail her. You did exactly as she wanted. Kim sacrificed herself to save her son, her grandchildren, her adopted world... and quite possibly the world of her birth. Since Earth and Threa are so close, there's no telling what may have happened if Norzod had won. By stopping that black wave, you made sure she didn't fail."
"Mother always wished you could have been there to offer me advice about being a leader. She said you were just amazing and took to it so well," Jamie said with gratitude for Tommy's words.
"That's because I had the best teacher you could ever want in Jason and Kim's love and support whenever I had my doubts," Tommy confessed.
Jamie nodded. Suddenly, the band about his wrist began beeping, and he glanced at it in alarm.
"My time grows short," he replied to Tommy's questioning gaze. "The reason I came is because Mother asked me to. Her last words... thoughts... were of you. She wanted me to tell you that she loved you and that she would always be a part of you. You have to live –not just for yourself but for her, too."
"That was her way of telling me not to give in to my grief," Tommy murmured, his throat closing up with his emotions.
"It is good advice," Jamie concurred. Then, he reached into his concealing coat and removed a black box which he handed to Tommy.
The former Ranger studied the exquisite piece of craftsmanship carefully. The small chest was made of ebony wood, highly polished and elaborately carved. The lid was inlaid with a silver amulet surrounded by a mosaic of stones in all the colors of the Rangers.
"This contains some items Mother wished you could have," Jamie explained. "As well as a few things I felt you should have." His wristband began beeping again, more urgently.
"I wish you didn't have to go," Tommy sighed, knowing that for his son, duty called.
"As do I," Jamie said, his words heavily laced with regret. "It is likely that I will never again visit Earth. Much time has passed on Threa, and it requires much energy to traverse the dimensions, let alone maintain my shield. Perhaps someday a way can be found....
"Should you ever find a way to come to Threa, be sure to carry with you the talisman embedded in this box. It was Mother's personal signet –the mark of the Great Imbera. All will know by this that you are an emissary to the Imbera, and you will be made welcome."
"T-thank you," Tommy faltered. The thought of saying good-bye after finally getting to meet his son... of being parted from his last link to Kimberly... was intolerable.
"Father...." Jamie began as if to say something further, but no words were forthcoming. Instead, both men shared an embrace that said it all for them.
Then, the Imbera of Threa stepped back. Touching the control on his wristband, he activated his teleportation signal and vanished in a flash of white light.
Tommy stood there staring numbly at the spot where his son had stood. He clutched the priceless treasure chest to him.
Startled from his revery by the gentle voice, he turned to find Kat and Jason coming towards him, their expressions laced with puzzlement and concern.
"Who was that you were with?" Jason asked.
"You guys saw him leave?" At their confirming nods, Tommy wanted to swear. He and Jamie shouldn't have been so careless. What if it hadn't been his friends –fellow Rangers– who had witnessed Jamie teleporting out? "Did anyone else...?"
"Your parents saw you talking to him, but they were too far way to see the teleportation beam," Kat assured him. Noting Tommy's melancholy expression, she reiterated, "Who was he?"
While both his friends knew about his helping the Imbera have a child, neither knew her identity. He simply, proudly, answered, "My son."