‘Good morning New York; today is June 19th, 2011, and we start off today’s news reel with the search for Amelia Smith. Six year old Amelia was reported missing three days ago when-’
“Hey, Earth to Leo!” Mikey exclaimed as he hopped over the couch to sit beside his brother. “Man, the news is so boring.”
“Quiet, Mikey.” Leo sighed. “Look at this. Another kid in our area went missing three days ago. What are WE missing? Look, this is just three blocks away.”
“I know what’ll cheer you up! You can play some video games with us. You’re pretty good at Super Smash Brawl.”
“This isn’t a game, Mikey. We really need to focus more on actually protecting others. People are getting hurt out there, and here we are, sitting in the sewer.” Leo replied.
“Come on, come on, come on!” Raphael exclaimed as he and Donnie played against each other.
“And, boom. I win again, Raph.” Donatello smirked.
“What the hell?! You had 98% damage!” Raphael shouted.
“All worth it while I waited for the super charge up. You didn’t stand a chance.” Donnie said.
“Okay, okay look at this. Look at my stats! They’re all stronger than you, this is the best fighting character in this game!”
“Being the best fighter doesn’t give you an automatic win, Raph. It’s all about tactic, it’s about taking any and all skills into account.”
“Oh, whatever... it’s a stupid game anyway.” Raphael tossed the controller aside, heading out of the room.
“Leo, um... hate to say this to you, but... Donnie’s kind of better than all of us, so your chances of winning are pretty slim.” Mikey whispered.
“Mikey, for the last time, I’m trying to focus here!” Leo exclaimed, sighing when Mikey frowned. “Look, I’m sorry. It’s just... we have a job to do, and I need to know what’s going on out there, who needs our help.”
“Yeah... but we still have to have fun sometimes, right?” Mikey asked. “I mean, we still need time for pizza, for games, movies, music-”
“Hey, guys!” A chipper voice spoke as they entered the lounge.
“-... and for girls.” Mikey smirked, Leo rolling his eyes as he nudged him aside.
“Hey, April.” Leo gave her a nod.
“H- Hi April, um...” Donnie cleared his throat, switching the other television to a NASA channel. “I was just um... studying how the circumference fluctuations of the sun affect the-”
“Sounds neat, Donnie, um... I just finished up a news report in the area so I wanted to just say hi. There’s a conference I have to get to in an hour, though, so I don’t have a lot of time to hang around.” April responded. “Do you mind if I freshen up a bit while I’m here? There’s no way I’d have time to get back to my apartment and get to the conference in time.”
“Sure, of course. Help yourself.” Leo said. “Though, kind of an oxymoron though, isn’t it? Freshening up in a sewer?” Leo chuckled.
“Leo!” Mikey exclaimed. “April, I am so sorry- Leo, how could you call her a moron? You apologize right now!”
Leo looked at his brother flatly. “Mikey, an oxymoron is-”
“What they mean to say- or rather, what I mean to say, April, is that you always look beautiful.” He tensed up then. “I- I mean, no, I didn’t mean that... well, I did, but I-”
“Look, I really need to get ready... I’ll be a few minutes, okay?” April chuckled before taking her purse and a few bags, heading into the lavatory. Donnie groaned, facepalming himself.
“Stupid, stupid, stupid...”
“Hey, ladies.” The three turtles turned at the sound of Raphael’s voice as he strode in. “Sensei wants to speak with us. He said it’s important.” He announced before heading back out of the room.
“Uh... did one of us forget to sharpen the blades again?” Mikey scratched his head.
“I guess we’ll find out. Come on, you guys.” Leo said, the three following Raphael.
Soon, all four were seated in the training room, their posture upright as they waited quietly. They all glanced up when footsteps approached, Splinter raising a hairy brow as he looked upon his sons.
“I have not called you here for a lesson today. This week, you are all celebrating another birthday. Each year, like a tree, I return to look upon your growth. One does not just grow physically. They also grow in knowledge, in wisdom.” He stopped his pacing to look upon them. “You are not little boys anymore.” He motioned for them to rise, the four doing so. “You are all expected to go forward this year with a sense of responsibility, of honor. Not just as ninjas... but as the men you will soon become.” Splinter shut his eyes for a moment as Mikey slowly raised his hand. “Yes, Michelangelo?”
“You’re not expecting us to eat vegetables from now on, are you?” He asked sheepishly, his siblings giving him a look and shaking their heads.
“Mikey, aren’t you listening to a word our father is telling us?” Leo asked. “If you would stop acting like a child for two seconds, you would see-”
“Leonardo.” Splinter held up a hand, Leo instantly silencing. “Michelangelo. One of the critical aspects of growing up is finding a sense of priority. For many years, your world has been small, obscure from the larger world which exists and all the dangers within it, whether you acknowledge it or not. Growing up does not mean giving up the things you love, but rather, seeing the truth, and knowing what is most important. As you have learned the art of being a ninja, learning about your enemies, and how to defeat them for the greater good, your world has expanded. But there is even more beyond that, my sons. Even I do not know all the world. Even I still find myself growing more in mind and spirit each year, learning and becoming wiser. You must do the same.”
“O- Okay.” Mikey said, Donnie rolling his eyes as he sighed.
“Leonardo.” Splinter said, getting his attention. “You seem unfocused.”
“No, I... I understand what you’re saying, Sensei. I do know what is important. That’s why I need to be out there. We need to be out there. I know you fear our risk of exposure, and we learned first hand the reason why. But how are we supposed to help anyone if we’re always down here?”
“Again, my son, you must learn priority. If we could save every life, that would be the best outcome. But it is also not realistic. Overexerting ourselves will lead to failure just as the opposite would. We must find a balance, Leonardo. Priority will help guide you to the right answer. Remember, as a leader, you are also responsible for the safety of yourself and your brothers.” Leo gave him a nod, returning to his thoughts. “Now then. With that said, I believe someone has a surprise in store for you.” Splinter’s eyes squinted a bit as he smiled.
The turtles turned around, smiling as April stood behind them with a birthday cake, the frosting making it look like a pizza pie. “Happy birthday, you guys!”
“Oh man, this is awesome!” Mikey exclaimed.
“Did you make this yourself?” Donnie asked.
“Yeah... I’m not the best cook, but I managed alright, I think.” April admitted.
“I’m sure it’ll be delicious.” Donnie said as he scratched the back of his neck.
Leo watched as his family and April ate their respective slices of cake. His own piece sat untouched, Leo shifting his gaze to look at it blankly. His mind repeated the words that the news reporter had spoken... little Amelia Smith would never have another birthday.
He found himself standing, excusing himself quietly, before leaving the room. Everyone stared at him as he left, silence filling the room. Mikey looked around, grinning uncertainly. “Can I have his cake if he doesn’t want it?” The others only stared at him flatly in response.
Up above them, Leo was outside, coated by the darkness as he perched himself on a rooftop. He sighed, closing his eyes in thought. There was something going on in this city; somehow, it seemed different than usual. It hung in the air like static, filling every molecule of the space. Why couldn’t anyone else sense it?
Back in the sewer, April gathered her things. “So, the conference wasn’t a complete lie... I need to be there soon. I’ll see you guys around, okay?”
“Thanks again for the cake, April.” Donnie replied.
“Yes, April, this was very thoughtful.” Splinter nodded lightly.
“Maybe there will be a crumb left the next time you swing by.” Raph chuckled, Donnie rolling his eyes as Mikey snickered.
“Don’t worry about it. You should worry more about Leo... what’s up with him lately? He seems so... withdrawn.” April commented.
“Leonardo is learning the hard lessons of what it means to be a young adult. Give him some time to reflect, he will make sense of everything in due time.” Splinter said. “When he is ready to open up to myself and his brothers, he will do so. It is his obligation as a leader.”
As Raph scoffed, April nodded. “Well, just don’t let him wander off. Who knows who could be out there.” She said before taking her leave, waving to the remaining turtles.
“Pfft, yeah, like anything is tougher than us!” Mikey exclaimed.
April shook her head as she giggled to herself, heading back up to the surface. She glanced at her watch, nodding to herself as she determined she was making excellent time. As she turned the corner, she did not notice something lurking in the shadows, quietly and carefully stalking her. Something red was barely seen, the sheen of the plastic, rubbery material giving it an unnatural glow in the low light. As April continued to go about her way, the red object slowly floated into the air, stopping for a few silent moments. Suddenly, the balloon was hurled, just barely missing April as she nearly jumped out of her skin. Water splattered just by her feet, and the young woman whirled around as laughter was heard.
“What the- are you serious right now?!” She exclaimed, the caster of the water balloon emerging from the shadows. “Casey, I swear, if you would have hit me with that, you would have been dead!”
“Hey, come on, April, it’s summer! And what’s a good summer without a water balloon fight?” The young man replied, lifting up his hockey mask to reveal a playful grin.
“There is a time and a place for everything, and right now, it’s time for me to go to a very important conference that may, I don’t know, really help my career. Just because you want to spend the rest of your life delivering pizzas does not mean that-”
“Woah, woah, woah! Do not insult the art of pizza delivering. That takes special skill to navigate through these streets.”
“Okay, I need to go. Goodnight, Casey.” April said with annoyance, shaking her head as she headed off.
“So, another day, then?” Casey shouted after her, snickering as he hoisted a backpack on his shoulder.
April huffed once she was alone once again, her brows furrowed in annoyance. Up ahead, she blinked when she saw another red balloon, becoming more irritated. “Real funny, Casey.” She grumbled as she slapped the floating object away from her. She turned a corner, stopping when she saw yet another one. “This is the worst prank you’ve come up with.” She said, bopping the balloon out of the way. She went on a bit further, stopping when she thought she heard something. “Hello?” She called as she turned around, gasping a bit when the same balloon was hovering behind her. “What the... seriously?” She groaned, though deep down, she was starting to feel uneasy. This was getting a little weird, not that she would admit it out loud. She’d never live it down if Casey or any of the turtles found out she became unsettled by a balloon of all things. She turned back around, but stopped short upon doing so. She gasped, finding that her way was blocked completely by dozens of red balloons that had definitely not been there a few seconds ago.
As suddenly as they appeared, they all popped simultaneously, the noise deafening. April’s felt goosebumps upon her skin, scrambling to run to the nearest bus stop.
Meanwhile, Leo glanced over as he was joined by his brother, Donnie sitting beside him as he adjusted his headset. “Hey... you know, this isn’t going to last long with Raph and Mikey around.” He said, handing Leo his slice of cake and a fork. “It’s your birthday, too.”
Leo couldn’t help but smile a bit. Donnie was always the most level-headed beside himself. “Thanks.” He said, deciding to take a bite.
“It’s a quiet night.” Donnie said. “Leo... you shouldn’t be so hard on yourself.”
“I just want to be able to make more of a difference.” Leo got up then, pacing around on the rooftop. “What’s the point of all the training, the lessons, the discipline, if we don’t use it?”
“But we do use it. I mean... we saved this city twice as it is... the first time from everyone being poisoned to death, and the second time from everyone getting vaporized by aliens.” Donnie reminded him.
“I know, but... there’s more out there than just them, Donnie. There’s criminals everywhere in this city, just waiting to prey on their next victim.” Leo said, looking out upon the streets below as the sky continued to darken.
“Leo... do you remember how big this city is? We may be mutants, but we can’t be everywhere at once. Like Splinter was telling us... it’s just too much. It’s not realistic. I mean, mathematically, if you make a ratio of the four of us against the average population at any given time in New York City, that would make-”
“I get it, I get it...” Leo sighed. “I know you’re right, Donnie. I just need to shake this feeling, I guess.”
April finally reached the government building where the conference was being held. She took in a deep breath, heading inside. She took out a pen and notepad, as well as her tripod, setting everything up as people began to gather. Soon, a gentleman with a pale complexion ascended to the podium, neat as a pin. He seemed to be in his mid-thirties, and wore a calm expression.
“Thank you all for attending tonight. For those of you who don’t know me, my name is Grayson Roberts. I’m sure you are all anticipating great change to come with this coming election. I will tell you now, the change has already come. We just need to wait a little longer before it happens.” April made sure she was covering his speech, some of the attendees clapping after making an announcement that he was running for state Governor, an ambitious move for someone of his age- especially for someone who seemed to have come out of thin air. He was interrogated by the press when he concluded, April waiting for a good opportunity as she listened to some of the other reporters present.
“Mr. Roberts, how do you plan to address the school budget?”
“Sir, what is your view on infrastructure?”
“How will you handle the issues surrounding taxes, Mr. Roberts?”
Finally, after about a half a dozen questions, April got his attention. “Mr. Roberts, what plans do you have in place to combat city crime rates?”
Grayson hesitated for a moment, smiling a bit. “If I’m not mistaken-... are you April O’Neil from Channel Six?”
“I am, sir.” April rose her brows, amazed that he recognized her.
Grayson nodded for a moment. “So, are you the same April who has actively supported the Movement for Mutants campaign?”
A few murmurs rippled through the room at this. “Yes, sir, I do support that.”
“Earlier, you worked as a computer programmer for the high risk criminal Baxter Stockman, am I correct? The very same man who robbed several major banks of millions of dollars and used that money for terrorist activities?” He pursed his lip as April’s smile faded.
“Sir... I had no idea at the time that Mr. Stockman was engaging in these activities-”
“Actually, I’ll give you credit on the second one. It’s no doubt that Mr. Stockman was a manipulative man- and you have, on several occasions, publicly shamed him. But the other issue I have, Ms. O’Neil... is your involvement with mutants. Notably, those... turtles. Mutants are- and will continue to be- an understated threat to society. They are unpredictable, they are not integrated into our public education system- they’re not on the same page as humans on many levels. What does this conclude? Their values, their morals, and their priorities are not the same as ours. That is the foundation for chaos.”
April cleared her throat. “Sir, if I may interject, you do remember that our city was saved by a major terrorist threat on not one, but two occasions, by-”
“For years, the presence of mutants across the globe have spelled trouble, at times even mass destruction. Placing mutants among the general population is like placing a loaded gun in the hand of a child. So much power, but they do not know how to control it. This can be dangerous, not just for themselves, but for us, as well. So Ms. O’Neil, to answer your question, I plan to set aside a modest budget to combat crime by combating those related to terrorist organizations... and also, to safeguarding the citizens of New York from the threat of mutants. Proving that they are just as responsible for their crimes as non-mutants will be the first step in making this city safer. Crimes happen every day, Ms. O’Neil... but not on the scale in these recent years.”
“But sir, you don’t understand! The turtles aren’t committing the crimes, they are the ones trying to save-”
“No further questions.” One of Roberts’ men came to the podium to announce quickly, the two exchanging a glance and nodding.
“Thank you everyone for your attendance. I hope you will all come out to vote in September and allow me the great honor of leading this city to greatness as your next Governor!” The room was filled with applause as he smiled, glancing at April for a moment before descending the podium. He wore a calm, but uneasy smile, the sound of applause drowning out in April’s ears as her mind reeled. No matter how many times she replayed what had just happened, she could not make any sense of his words.