Donnie yawned and stretched, slowly coming awake. He was so warm and cozy. Had he actually fallen asleep in his bed this time? He must have since he was laying down instead of slumped in his computer chair.
Groping blindly for his blanket, his hand met only air. Huh? He wasn’t covered in anything, yet still deliciously warm. How? His hand dropped back down to his side, sinking into the smooth sand. Sand? Sand! What the shell?
His eyes snapped open and he bolted upright, looking around wildly. The space was completely unfamiliar. He lay on a tropical beach, the water lapping gently against the edge of the sand, almost reaching his toes.
Each side of him was thick with the strangest plants he’d ever seen. They looked like enormous, stalks of grass covered in oversized tree leaves from various, deciduous species of trees. Behind him was a large, slate ledge.
Although it looked as bright as day, there was only darkness in the distance, no matter which direction he looked. Squinting up towards the sky, it looked like there was some kind of fine-knit mesh over top and, beyond that, three blinding light sources in a black background. It made no sense. Where was he? How did he get here?
Closing his eyes, he breathed slow and deep as his Sensei had taught him, trying to call back his most recent memories.
He sat magnetized to the hull of the derelict ship, sorting through his duffle bag of goodies, careful not to let any drift out in his zero-g surroundings. After learning that the distress call was, at the very least, decades old, Raph had gone straight back to the Fugitoid’s ship, muttering something about how space sucked. He supposed it could seem that way, if you opened an airlock, but he doubted that’s what Raph meant. He’d been left to his own devices while Leo was off playing Space Heroes and Mikey was around playing…well probably just playing in general.
He did find several items of interest that he’d gutted from the abandoned old vessel and was considering all the uses he might put them too, before going back to the ship filled with the nonstop demands and interruptions of his brothers. It was nice to take a moment to just…be.
But he would go back soon. He hated leaving April alone with Casey too long. He already had enough of an uphill battle without giving his rival advantages. Still, it was nice out here. He could afford a little more time, before his oxygen and energy stores began to run low.
He remembered the first time he’d really seen the stars. It was at April’s farmhouse. The night sky had been so dark, clear and full. Sure he’d viewed pictures of stars before in books and online, but with all the light pollution in New York City, he’d never really laid eyes on them directly, despite their nocturnal habits. Not until the farmhouse.
It had been fascinating and a blessed relief from the burdens that they’d brought back with them from the city. His brothers, distracted enough already, had chalked up his daily exhaustion to his habit of working late, but some nights, he just stayed up, on the roof of the barn, gazing at the cosmos above him and letting all his personal problems fall away as the enormity of it put everything in perspective. But even that didn’t compare to actually being out here. It was truly amazing and he doubted that he would ever tire of it.
“It’s kind of like a boring version of my Cosmic Blasters game. Not enough explosions though. Or shiny, collectable crystals.”
Donnie jumped at the sound of Mikey’s voice, startled to find his little brother suddenly beside him. “You did not just compare the mind-bending majesty of the ever expanding, possibly infinite, universe to one of your video games.”
Mikey chuckled. “Yeah, I think it’s pretty too.”
Donnie sighed. “Where’s Leo?”
Mikey stretched and leaned back on the hull as though there were actual gravity to pull him in that direction. “Back on the ship. I guess Raph and Casey were practice fighting and broke something important, so Fugitoid called. Leo went back to yell at them and sent me to get you.”
Great. Something else for him to fix. At least he had Fugitoid to help.
“Why weren’t they sparring in the holoroom?”
Donnie just shook his head and started to get up. “Fine. Let’s just…”
He didn’t even have time to finish the thought before they were enveloped in a blinding, bright light.
Mikey! What happened to Mikey?
Calm. Must be calm and breathe. Hyperventilating and passing out would not help him find his brother. He needed to generate a plan for systematically searching the location. If Mikey was here, he would find him.
He froze at the sound of a ululating wail behind him and turned in time to see Mikey swinging from one of the giant grass stalks, completely unable to support his weight, right…into…him.
Mikey plowed right into Donnie’s chest and they both tumbled backwards, landing in a big heap. Donnie managed to speak, despite his brother’s crushing weight on top of him.
“Mikey, you ok?”
“Oww. You’d think Mikey of the Jungle would have pulled that off better.”
“Yeah, yeah. I’m ok.”
“Good. Now, get. Off.”
Hearing Donnie’s ‘you did not just touch one of my experiments’ tone of voice, Mikey rapidly scrabbled off of him. “Don’t get your shell in a bunch. I was just having a little fun.”
Taking a deep breath, Donnie counted to ten before he even attempted responding. “Do you even know where we are?”
Mikey grinned. “The beach!”
Donnie just glared at him and the grin fell away.
“Not a clue. Where are we?”
Donnie’s shoulders slumped. “I don’t know.”
Now Mikey looked worried and Don wasn’t surprised. It wasn’t often that he admitted complete ignorance without at least offering something. But his sunny, little brother didn’t stay down for long.
“Well, then let’s go exploring and figure it out.”
He started to object before processing Mikey’s words. “That’s…actually not a bad idea.”
Mikey laughed. “Like a turtle do, yo.”
And just like that the smart words were gone. Oh well, he could take it from here.
Picking a direction at random, he flipped up onto the ledge, with Mikey following a step behind.
He started to reach for his staff, in the hopes of using its analytical scanners, before realizing that it wasn’t there. In fact, all of his gear was gone. Mikey’s too. That couldn’t be good. He still had his prototype language translator, tucked inside his inner ear, currently untested after uploading the Fugitoid’s entire alien language database to it. The fact that he still had it meant that their belongings hadn’t been spontaneously destroyed. He and Mikey had been searched and looted. Not a good sign.
Well, he didn’t need fancy technology to figure this out. Though it would have helped.
He started forward, Mikey shadowing him. Not even to the far side of the ledge, he was quickly losing patience with his brother crowding him.
“Mikey! Give me some spac…”
Splat. He smacked right into a slick, glass wall and was immediately crushed against it as Mikey collided into him.
Mikey backed up, rubbing his head sheepishly. “Sorry D.”
Gingerly massaging his sore beak as he pushed back from the glass, he examined the substance on it. While he couldn’t be certain what it was without a detailed, chemical analysis, tactilely, it reminded him of petroleum jelly. Strange.
Well they couldn’t go through here, so they would have to walk along it until he could find some sort of breach in the barrier. Arbitrarily choosing to travel right, he followed the wall, with Mikey still close in tow, but at least not creeping up his shell anymore.
They trail blazed through what turned out to be an artificial jungle for a few minutes before he hit another wall, connecting neatly to the first in a perfect corner.
“Hey, maybe we can jump up the walls.”
Normally, jumping back and forth between walls that met at a ninety-degree angle to climb and flip over the top would have a been a cinch for any of them. But he’d hadn’t told Mikey about the substance, coating the glass. His brother actually made it pretty high off his initial launch, but as his foot met the nearly frictionless wall with no traction at all, he slipped along the surface he’d intended to push off of.
There was no time for Donnie to get out of the way as his brother plummeted back down on top of him. Three Mikey collisions in the span of ten minutes. What had he done to deserve it?
Shoving Mikey off, he climbed back to his feet and dusted the fine sand and gravel off of him. “Come on. Let’s see what’s down this way.”
Mikey responded with a thumbs up as he rolled to the balls of his feet, apparently unfazed by his tumble. Typical Mikey.
Very soon, they were both back at the water edge. Giving it a good look this time, he noted that there were several large pieces of what appeared to be driftwood poking through the surface, seemingly fixed in place.
“Hey, there’s someone out there!”
He followed Mikey’s line of sight and his jaw fell open. It was another mutant turtle, like them, but not Leo or Raph.
“Hey dude! Wait! We could use your help.”
Mikey charged into the water and, taking in the shape of the other turtle’s shell and slightly larger size, he couldn’t help voicing his thoughts before his brain had a chance to filter them.
“I think he’s a she.”
“Hey dudette! Wait! We could use your help!”
Mikey didn’t even slow as he swam after her. Mikey was a fast swimmer, but she kept just ahead of him until appearing to let Mikey catch her.
“Hey, it’s cool. We won’t hurt you. We’re just lost and stuck. Do you know what’s going on?”
Donnie watched from the shore as his brother questioned their new companion. She just stared blankly back at him, generally unresponsive, other than appearing to be waiting for something and continually trying to turn away from him, each time he moved to get in front of her.
Mikey called back to him. “A little help here, D.”
With a sigh, he splashed into the water, swimming towards them, noting that the water was at the most perfect temperature to comfortably swim in. By the time he made it over, Mikey had climbed up onto a nearby driftwood support to evade her as she now kept trying to back into him. He dodged the bizarre, female, mutant to turtle to haul himself up next to his brother. She resumed swimming circles around them.
“What’s wrong with her D?”
He shook his head. “I have no idea. The resemblance might be coincidental and she’s not actually a sentient species.”
Mikey blinked. “What’s senshin?”
He rubbed his temples. “I mean she might be more like an animal than a person.”
Mikey frowned. “Oh. It’d be kind of weird to keep her as a pet though.”
He stared at his brother. “What? Why would we…never mind. I need to figure a way out of here. Wherever here is.”
They were interrupted by a series of chirps and clicks from above. After a slight delay, his ear piece began to translate.
“Why aren’t they pursuing it? I crafted it perfectly, based on their own frames and our expert’s description.”
“I don’t know. Maybe the species’ courtship behaviors are lengthier and more complex than we were led to believe. Perhaps we just have to be patient.”
“Patient! We only have two of them and there are only four total in existence. We might have saved these two from their terribly dangerous lifestyle, but what if they get sick or injured. The species is on the brink. Without any natural females, if we’re to save it, we need genetic samples as soon as possible! I say we sedate them and take the samples.”
“No, we can’t risk harming them. They aren’t replaceable.”
“General admission is starting soon. We’ll try with simulation again after closing time.”
The sounds fell silent and Mikey blinked in surprise as the circling female turtle flickered out of existence. Donnie swallowed the lump in his throat as all the details clicked into place. Glass walls. Basking surfaces. Perfect temperature and humidity. Fake, non-toxic plants. Artificial lighting. Screened ceiling. Oh shell, they were in an aquarium turtle habitat.
And based on the conversation he’d just overheard, they’d expected him and Mikey to…with the simulated female turtle…eww. He thought he might be sick.
“You ok D? You look a little green. I mean more than usual.”
Unable to think of a good way to explain his realization to Mikey, he just shook his head. “Yeah, give a minute.”
What had they meant by general admission? The lights outside their prison blinked on and he flinched back from the sudden brightness. It was hard to tell, but, in the distance, he thought that he could make out several more terrariums in the space around theirs, presumably full of other forms of ‘alien life’ being preserved by their well-meaning captors. The room started to fill with all kinds of unrecognizable extraterrestrials, looking curiously into the other cells.
“Mikey, I think we’re in a zoo.”
His little brother brightened immediately. “A zoo! Awesome. What do you want to see first?”
He groaned and buried his face in his palms.
“Hey guys! Hi. We’re kind of stuck in here and could use some help.”
Before he could stop him, Mikey was off the driftwood and swimming over to one of the walls of their enclosure where a slender, reed-like alien with what Donnie could only assume was its offspring, stood, observing them. The little one tapped the glass in front of Mikey, making a series of burbling noises which his ear piece translated to ‘hello Mr. Terrapin.’ The larger alien immediately bopped the smaller one, it’s speech translating to ‘Stop it. The sign says not to interact with the exhibits.’
Donnie jumped back in the water and swam over to Mikey, who watched forlornly was the aliens moved on to the next captive. Donnie surfaced beside his brother.
“When I said we’re in a zoo, I meant that we were the animals everyone was coming to look at.”
Another group of aliens approached to ogle them and Mikey scooted a bit behind him as though to shield himself from their scrutiny.
“Donnie, do you think this is how the zoo animals back on Earth feel?”
He started to say no, but realized he wasn’t certain of the veracity of that answer.
“I don’t know Mikey. Maybe.”
“I changed my mind. I don’t want to go to a zoo anymore.”
Donnie took a deep breath and tried to block out the spectators. “Come on. Let’s keep looking for a way out.”
At least he could see the upcoming wall now as he swam towards it. The outer lights made the distinction much more visible. Mikey was crowding him again, but given the extent to which they were on display he decided against shoving him away. Even he was having trouble blocking out all the visitors who’d come to stare and his focus could be single-minded when he had a problem to solve.
“It’s a human!” The relief in Mikey’s tone as he broke away from Donnie and darted over to the glass was palpable.
Despite a lifetime of training to avoid humans as a reflexive instinct, even he had to admit that it was nice to see something familiar. Even if the guy was in a neighboring terrarium.
It was the strangest thing. The glass enclosure held what looked like a dollhouse version of a full size suburban dwelling, complete with lawn, driveway and car that had nowhere to go. Although they were viewing it from the side, he could tell that the front looked like a normal, two-story colonial, but the back seemed sheared off with only waist-high, metal safety rails so that viewing aliens could see into every room of the house.
What did the poor guy do when he needed to go to the bathroom during open hours? Wait, what were he and Mikey going to do if they had to go to the bathroom? They didn’t even have any sanitary facilities.
Although he suspected that their tank had a filtration system, the idea of just going wherever did not appeal to him. He determined to hold it until all the visiting aliens were gone and maybe try to find some privacy in the artificial plants. Why couldn’t they have at least gotten a house like the human? Even if it was creepy.
Not that the human appeared to mind. The guy was reclining on his lawn, in a folding lounge chair, drinking a beer with a cooler full of more beside him. For a moment, he felt ashamed that this was what the rest of the universe would think of Earth and its dominant life form, until he remembered his own problems.
“Yo dude! Are you from Earth?”
Startled, the guy looked up and saw Mikey waving enthusiastically at him. With a shrug, completely ignoring his own spectators, he got up and wandered as close to them as his own boundaries would allow, eyeing them with undisguised curiosity.
“How do you know about Earth?”
Mikey sagged against the slimy wall in relief. “Oh man, it is so good to meet someone else from the home world. Earthen pride, right?” Mikey held up his hand, as though to high five the glass, as the man stared in disbelief.
“You’re from Earth?”
Mikey nodded eagerly. “We’re totally on a secret mission to save the Earth. I’m Mikey. Who are you?”
The guy blinked. “Joe.”
Donnie glared at his little brother. “What part of secret is unclear to you?”
Mikey blushed and ducked his head. “Oh, sorry D.”
Joe seemed to have recovered from the initial shock. “Wait, if you’re from Earth, then you’re the ones…”
Donnie’s attention immediately snapped back to the human. “We’re the ones what?”
Joe rubbed the back of his head sheepishly. “The things that run this place asked me a bunch of questions about turtle care and I thought they meant normal turtles. I used to keep a few as pets.”
So that’s why their habitat looked so similar to human’s version of a pet turtle tank.
“Why would you help them?”
Joe cheerfully hoisted up his beverage. “Beer.”
Donnie blinked in utter disbelief for a moment. “You’re cooperating with your captors for…beer?”
He shrugged. “I wouldn’t say captors. I’ve got it good here. No job. Food. The house I always wanted, minus the rear wall. Virtual hotties. And now booze. They were holding out on me because they said it wasn’t healthy or something, but I bargained for it with my turtle know-how.”
He didn’t know what to say. And apparently, neither did Mikey as his little brother was uncharacteristically silent. This guy didn’t mind being here? What was wrong with him? How could any rational being be content in such a confined, artificial space, denied of freedom? It boggled the mind. But he’d set that aside for the moment in favor of figuring out their captor’s relationship with Earth.
“Not to be rude, but why would they care if beer is healthy for you? There are billions of humans on Earth. Aren’t you replaceable?”
The guy bristled a bit at that. “I may not be weirdos like you two, but I’m still quite the find. It turns out a lot of the other people they’ve tried offering this generous lifestyle to weren’t good fits and had to be released back into the wild or something.”
Don sighed. So this was the one guy who didn’t fight for his freedom. Great. And he would be all anyone knew of Earth should he and his brothers fail. Another reason they needed to stop the Triceratons. Well, at least decades of alien abduction stories now made a lot more sense.
The guy grinned. “Anyway, I’ve put in some requests on what I’d like for companionship, since they want to start a proper colony. I guess they think we’re going to destroy ourselves or whatever.”
As much as he would have liked to refute that, given human nature, he couldn’t do so with complete certainty. At least Earth’s actual destruction as he knew it wasn’t their own fault. Well, he’d confirmed that the human was just another act of well-intended preservation on the part of their captors. And as sort of relieving as it was that they didn’t seem to generally keep people against their will, given the limited options of mutant turtles, he doubted he and Mikey would be offered that courtesy. They’d need to make their own way out.
“Well good luck with that Joe.” The guy looked stunned as he turned and swam away.
After a second of hesitation, Mikey followed. “Later dude.”
Once back at the beach, he started drawing in the sand, considering his options. While technically, he didn’t actually need to write down ideas to keep them all balanced in his head, for some reason the act of writing and drawing seemed to help them flow more freely. He needed to assess what resources were at their disposal and how best they could be used.
He really wished Leo were here. His big brother always had the most practical and creative problem solving insights that he could easily transform real solutions. Well, if Leo could do it, then so could he. He was the smart one after all.
“Whatcha doin D?”
He didn’t even look up as Mikey approached. “Trying to figure a way out of here.”
Mikey bent his head over his shoulder and he grit his teeth at the distracting intrusion.
“So you figured it out yet?”
“How about now?”
“Mikey! Give me some space to work! I will let you know when I’ve figured it out.”
Mikey pouted, but backed off. “Fine. I’ll just go back to being Mikey of the Jungle for a while. BTW, you’re missing out. I’m mean there aren’t real vines to swing on, but it’s still close enough to be Tarzantastic.”
Mikey’s words clicked an idea into place and he smiled. “I think I know how we’re getting out of here.”
When the outer lights finally flickered off, Mikey let out a sigh of relief and dashed into the fake plants. Donnie just shook his head. He’d told him not to eat the pellets in the nearby dish, but Mikey could never let an opportunity to try new food pass him by. This wasn’t the best time for his brother to test his iron stomach and apparently not so undefeatable digestive track.
He put the finishing touches on their project and tucked it into a hiding place that he’d prepared. The virtual girl-turtle appeared in the water again and he resolutely ignored her, counting on Mikey to do the same when he returned. It shouldn’t be too long before their one captors lost patience.
The simulated turtle finally vanished about an hour later. Or at least he thought it was an hour. He found it increasingly difficult to keep accurate track of time in this artificial environment.
The air took on a strange smell and he tapped Mikey awake from his nap. “It’s time.”
For once, his little brother complied without comment, taking position and concentrating on his breathing. When done properly, the technique should temporarily relieve them of their reliance on breathing their current atmosphere. He could still hear the aliens above them.
“Are they unconscious? Why are they sitting up like that?”
“It might be a trait of the species that we haven’t observed before.”
“So are they out or not?”
“Their vitals are fine, but their respiration is very slow. I think they are unconscious, but without a brain scan…”
“Good enough for me. Let’s go in and extract the genetic samples.”
He waited until he could sense the alien’s presence very close to him before breaking his trance and attacking. The enormous almond-shaped black eyes of the slender, hairless, gray being doubled in size.
As Donnie firmly planted his heel into the alien’s delicate, bare chest, sending it flying backwards into the water. Some kind of instrument that he suspected to be a type of hypodermic needle, a very large one, dropped from it’s slim, four fingered hand, landing in the sand.
He could hear the splash of Mikey’s alien, taking a similar surprise trip. They didn’t appear to wear any clothing, except for tool belts full of scientific instruments. Tempting as it was to snag the whole set for later examination, they needed to move.
Instead, he scanned the ceiling until he found where the lid was askew. Their captor’s entry point. No ladder or other obvious way down. Maybe they could levitate or were telekinetic. It didn’t matter. He’d accounted for this eventuality.
Retrieving their day’s labor from its hiding place under the granite ledge, he flipped up top of the stone platform and ran for the opening. They’d spent their time in captivity, peeling the fake plants into fibers and rebraiding them into rope, using a broken off piece of driftwood as an anchor piece.
“I got this D!”
The improvised grappling hook vanished from his hand as Mikey sprinted past.
Donnie crossed his arms and huffed as Mikey unleased the hook and caught in the rim on the first try. “I could’ve done that.”
“Make some turtle tracks D! Last one out is a rotten egg.”
For once he was glad that Sensei had run them through so many free-climbing drills. Not being able to use the slick wall might have been a problem otherwise. Even so, Mikey had made the mistake of trying to push off the glass anyway and he narrowly avoided a face full of tail as his exuberant little brother slid back down.
“Just keep moving.”
He barely made it up in time to stop Mikey from flipping off the top.
Mikey looked down the two-story, sheer drop. “I could make it.”
He turned the grappling hook around, flipping the rope down the outside. “Humor me.”
Mikey rolled his eyes and started to climb down, his foot slipping on the outer glass, apparently slick on both sides.
“Waaaaah!” His brother caught himself but not without getting a little rope burn on his hands and feet. “Ah! Hot! Hot!”
With a sigh, Donnie turned away from his hopping brother and carefully pulled the aquarium lid into place. Then he made his way down, deliberately avoiding any reliance on the glass walls for support.
Once down, he gave the rope a sharp yank, snapping the wooden hook off and letting the lid fall into place. Hopefully, that would hold them long enough.
After Mikey splatted against the nearest glass cage, they opted not to sprint as they navigated their way out through the maze of exhibits. A very stressful, indeterminate length of time later, they finally found an outer wall that led to what he believed to be an exit. And an office.
“Uh, we’re not leaving?” Mikey gave him a curious look as he eschewed the exit in favor of the office.
“Give me a minute.” If it had been anyone else, he probably would have gotten an argument, but no one was quite as trusting as Mikey.
Despite taking longer than he was comfortable with, he did manage to figure out their computer system and began downloading their data to what he figured was their version of a memory stick. Bored, Mikey was spinning himself in circles on the wheeled stool.
They were both thrown onto their shells as the exit door blew open. With a groan he tilted his head up, seeing four figures stealthily entering through the explosion’s lingering cloud of smoke.
“Ninja are supposed to be quiet!” Leo’s familiar whisper echoed through the large empty space.
“I’m not a ninja!” He could now make out Casey’s silhouette, hover skating around, as he zeroed in on the voice.
“Seriously Casey, how many photon pucks did you use?” Raph sounded as irritated as ever.
“As many as I thought necessary. It worked better than you stabbing the lock, didn’t it?”
He had to admit that it was amusing to see how they got through security systems without him.
“Enough! Everyone, everywhere has to know we’re here now. Let’s just get Donnie and Mikey and get out.” Hearing April’s voice, he immediately rolled to his feet and squinted into the clearing smoke to catch a glimpse of her perfect form.
“Yo dudes! What took you?” All four of them turned towards the office at Mikey’s salutation.
“Beep boop. Well, if a couple of someones hadn’t blown up a photon disc in the navigation panel, then we would have been here sooner.” Raph and Casey cringed as Fugitoid’s voice rang out through their helmet microphones.
“I said I was sorry Robo-dude. I’ll teach Raph hockey in the holoroom next time. Stop cranking up the volume.”
“I’ll stop bloop when I’m done being cross with you.”
Donnie’s snicker at their predicament was cut short as Leo suddenly appeared in front of him and Mikey, eyes darting over them for any sign of injury before he reached out and pulled them both into a hug.
“Easy Leo, their fine.” Unable to turn and see Raph, whose voice emanated from behind him, he felt his brother’s hand rest comfortingly on his shoulder. Leo released them and backed up sheepishly.
Before he could say anything, April rushed in and threw her arms around his neck. “I’m so glad you’re ok.”
He caught her in an embrace on reflex, his brain a chaotic swirl of conflicting reactions to her sudden proximity. She smells like sunshine. Sunshine doesn’t have a smell. Shut up and enjoy this. While his mind filed the moment away under incidences of non-accidental, physical contact with April, he sighed happily and lost himself in the moment.
“Hey! What about me?”
With a rueful chuckle, she released him, not noticing his barely audible whimper as she pulled away, and turned to give Mikey a less intense hug. “I’m happy you’re ok too.”
“We can continue the reunion back on the ship. We’ve got what we came for, so it’s time to get out of here.”
Leo was right of course, but he couldn’t leave yet. Hurrying back over to the computer console, he saw that the download was complete and triumphantly pulled the portable drive free.
“Should I even ask?” Raph raised a questioning brow at him.
“Information I need to solve Earth’s alien abduction problem after we save it.”
“Beep borp. That’s an ugly stereotype, although, given the circumstances, I suppose I can’t blame you.” Raph winced as his radio blared again with Fugitoid’s voice.”
Donnie just shook his head. “Come on. I can’t wait to be out of here.”
The holoroom flickered to life as an exact replica of his lab. He could have analyzed the data anywhere on the ship, but this space was his and right now, he could use the comfort.
Plopping down in his familiar old computer chair, he inhaled deeply noting that the simulator had even captured the exact scent of the room. Engine oil. Chemicals. And a touch of ozone from the electricity. Precisely, how he remembered it.
Just beyond the closed door, he could make out the muffled voices of his father and brothers, interacting just beyond the barrier and a warm feeling of contentment settled in his chest. He knew this wasn’t real, but even so, for the moment, he was just happy to be home.
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