Muckman curled up between two dumpsters outside of a suburban school, gazing out at the empty field, barely visible in the twilight. He was working his way in towards the city so that he could hopefully disappear in such a way that they would never find him. His escape had been a near thing.
Dazed and a bit in shock after the battle for freedom in Howard's basement dungeon, the responding EDF agents had picked him up with ease. After capturing him and holding him captive, that man, Bishop, had come to him with an offer. He couldn't put his finger on it, but there was something wrong with Bishop and Joe concurred.
He recalled his time under Howard's control with perfect, bitter clarity. He could still see the look on the fox girl's face when she realized that she'd been caught. Because of him. And knowing that Howard had her to use to track down his little turtle buddies had been an extra kick to the jewels. No way would he ever be in that position again. Never.
So when Bishop had come to him, he'd chosen the 'or else' option. And thus he'd begun his weeks of captivity. But they didn't know everything about him. When they'd finally taken him out of that glass to run some tests on him, he'd seen his chance.
That doctor, Chappy or something like it and his lady assistant had taken plenty of precautions, stunning him with electricity and shoving him in another jar. But it wasn't as big of a hit as Savage had given him. With his improved tolerance, he found he'd been able to tolerate it, just barely though.
Semi-conscious, but knowing what was at stake, he'd called upon his powers while he still could, before the lid went down and he was sealed away again. If they had closed the jar and activated the electrical field that nullified his abilities, all would have been lost. But that split second of awareness had made the difference.
He'd summoned all of the trash and their accompanying bins, every broken discarded piece of junk and equipment, anything that would heed his call and assaulted in the in maelstrom of refuse. They'd dropped the canister, he he'd made his escape, melting down into ooze to squeeze into the one of the storm drains and flee the building through its pipe system.
He'd been on the run ever since, knowing that the one place he had any friends at all besides Joe was the one place he could never go back to. New York. They'd look for him there first and, well intentioned or not, Grody's coverage of him would only seal his fate. But where was there for him to go? What was he supposed to do?
"Hey! Do you hear that?"
"If dis is anoder pep talk Joe, I'm not in da mood."
"No, I mean it. I think someone's crying."
He closed the eye that he had control over and focused. He didn't actually have ears anymore. In fact, the only bits of him that remained from his old life were the one eye ball that wasn't Joe and some parts of his mouth.
He didn't technically even have a brain anymore. His consciousness was diffused throughout the strange goo that held his composite chunks of garbage together in solid form. The goo from which his powers emanated.
Rearranging his pieces, he intuitively constructed them into a shape that could capture and amplify sound. It was strange to find things that once baffled him in school came to him as instinct now. The quiet sobs had become clearly audible. For a moment he considered asking Joe how he'd managed to hear it or anything really, being only an eyeball, but ultimately decided that he didn't want to know.
He cautiously followed the crying to his source. At the far end of the field was a vertical drainage pipe, almost the same diameter as a car tire, essentially creating a pit trap hidden in the grass. Whoever designed it needed to be slapped.
He looked down and saw a kid inside, chest deep in water and using his arms to brace against the sides so that he didn't sink below the water line, but there was definitely no climbing back up and no one around to hear if he'd been calling for help.
"Oy, ya ok kid?"
"Help! Help! Please get me out of here." The boy's voice sounded hoarse. How long had he been in there?
"Hang on kid. I got ya."
Below the trapped child, he could sense a plethora of debris, deeper with in the pipe, likely a result of the missing grate that was no longer attached over the top. He willed all the pieces together into a small platform and raised it from below. The kid gasped when must have felt like flooring suddenly appeared under his feet and began to lift him.
Muckman stood back, not only to avoid being seen, but also to minimize the risk of physical contact. The boy already had enough concerns with being scraped up in that pipe. The kid didn't need to be exposed to whatever germs were inevitably present in the garbage based make up of his body.
As the boy's torso made it up over the edge of the pipe, he scrambled out on his own, grateful to be free. The poor guy only looked to be about eleven or twelve.
He tried to nod, but was shivering too violently to pull it off. Hypothermia. Reaching out his consciousness, Muckman located every loose bit of newspaper in the vicinity and drew them towards him to envelop the startled kid in a papery blanket.
"Gotta get ya some help."
That's when the boy caught sight of him and he cringed as he anticipated the screaming. But although the kid's eyes were as wide as saucers, he didn't shriek and he didn't run.
"You saved me?" He nodded.
"Anytime kid. Now let's see about getting ya some docs or somethin."
Focusing back on his listening set up, he noted a nearby, reasonably trafficked road. Other people would be able to help. Pulling a broken, three wheeled skateboard out of his guts, he made it scoop up the kid and led them to the embankment by the side of the street.
Waiting until the traffic had thinned out a little, he commanded a garbage can from a nearby residential street to roll into the road. Although the car swerved wildly and was forced off onto the shoulder, Muckman's control of the can wouldn't have allowed it to hit. He wasn't trying to cause and accident, just stop a car.
"I'm kinda under da radar, so I'd appreciate it if ya didn't mention me to anyone."
The boy nodded solemnly. Then Muckman willed the skateboard to roll him down to the car, just stopping in front of the frightened people trying to assess whether or not their vehicle had been damaged. He heard a woman gasp and then a man's voice.
"Holy crap kid what happened to you?! Margo call 911!"
Satisfied that the child was finally safe, Muckman trudged away smiling to himself. Maybe, on the run or not, he could still be a hero.
Muckman watched from the bushes as the unfortunate little girl's friends ran home for dinner, leaving her terrified and stuck up the tree that they'd boosted her into. The largest one in the park.
It took him a while to do it subtly, but eventually he managed to summon a loose metal garbage can and a few sturdy boxes from nearby alleys to form a makeshift staircase on the reverse side the tree. Then Joe slithered over to the staircase, careful to keep hidden and called out.
Startled, the little girl wiped her tears away and began seeking out the source of the voice. That's when she noticed the stairs with an awed gasp. Wasting no time, she used to scramble down out of the tree. He smiled as she scurried off home.
"Well done." How had they found him? It didn't matter. They'd never take him alive. Spinning around, he girded himself for battle. And stopped in puzzlement. Rather than the strike team he'd been expecting, there was just one lone, unarmed old man in a trench coat.
"Jack J. Kurtzman. Call me Jack." He handed out a business card that Joe kindly retrieved and brought over to him. When he saw the EDF logo, he was ready to pound the guy. Jack raised his hands defensively and backed up.
"Whoa, whoa, whoa. If I was going to roll on you, do you think we'd be meeting like this?" Muckman didn't totally lower his guard, but acknowledging the truth of the words decided to hear him out.
"So what do ya want then?"
"The EDF does some good work, but it's definitely not a good fit for everyone. While my job is to figure things out on their behalf, in fact one of my current tasks is supposed to be finding you, you wouldn't be the first mutant I've kept secret from them."
"Oh yeah, like who?"
"The ninja turtles in New York." Muckman's eye widened and Joe gasped.
"If dat's so, should ya be telling me about them?"
"I've seen the Grody to the Max special on you, so I know that you know them."
"Fine, so maybe you know my turtle men buddies."
"Their good kids."
"And somehow you tracked me down."
"You did a great job of convincing people not to report you, so I had to rely on bizarre human interest news stories to put the pieces together. You know you've kind of traveled in a spiral pattern. You might want to switch it up a bit."
Jack held up a map, covered in x's in the places Muckman had been, starting where he'd saved the boy in the drainage pipe. Jack was right. The line connecting the x's was definitely an outward going spiral. Oops.
"So ya ain't takin me in. Whaddya want?" Jack sighed.
"The EDF gets lots of reports of trouble. Too many sometimes and it ignores stuff that it considers beneath them. But that stuff isn't so insignificant to the innocents involved. Someone ought to save them."
"And ya think that someone is me?"
"I hope. If we can set up a system, where I can secretly get these reports to you, would you consider helping?"
Muckman considered this for a moment. It would be nice to have a little directed purpose and if the guy hunting him down was his ally, then he could probably count on him to keep failing to locate him for the EDF.
"Ok Jack. I'm in. Let's do this." Jack took his gloppy hand and shook it.
"Thanks. The world needs another freelance hero.