Raph shifted uncomfortably in his space armor as they trudged to the rendezvous point just outside the auction house and surrounding amenities, apparently the only structures on this desolate, dust ball. He got that they were being stealthy, but did the Fugitoid really have to park the ship that far away? He wasn’t going to voice the question out loud though. Not again.
All he’d gotten from Donnie’s sciencese was ‘yes, yes it did.’ The details about sandstorms and radar interference had disappeared into Don’s inability to speak understandably. So now they were stuck, marching through a barren wasteland while the robot was kicking back comfortably on the ship under the guise of keeping it hidden. Since Fugitoid had arranged the meeting with the contact you’d think that he’d be the one to…
Raph drew in a sharp breath as the cloaked figure, awaiting them at the back wall of auction house outpost, turned to face them.
“Mona Lisa.” The words came out breathy and full of longing. He could hear his family snickering, but didn’t care.
She smiled. “Raphael.”
In an instant he closed the distance between them, pressing the glass of his helmet against hers as the world melted away around them.
As usual, Mikey shattered the moment. “Gonna have to wait until we get inside for kissy nose! Woohoo!”
Eyes narrowing, he spun towards his little brother. “Mikey I’m gonna…”
Then Mona’s tail encircled his shell, pulling him back. “Who did this?”
His body rippled with pleasant shivers as her hands traced the newly healed damage to his shell. The cracks would probably fade quickly, but the plasma burn across his plastron might be as permanent as the lightning-shaped gouge.
“Doesn’t matter. Leo got him.” He was pleased how even his voice sounded despite the very distracting physical contact.
“Ahem. Not to interrupt, but…”
At the sound of Leo’s voice, she retracted her hands and stepped back, leaving him to catch his breath.
“Of course. Commander G’throkka called in some favors to gain us access to the auction house.”
From within her cloak, she withdrew a handful of plastic covered cards on lanyards. Seriously? They looked like convention badges.
Leo accepted them gratefully and began to distribute them. “We really appreciate the Salamandrian’s help in this.”
Wait? How did Leo know they were meeting Mona here?
She shook her head. “No. We cannot allow the Triceratons get their hands on the Heart of Darkness. It must be destroyed.”
Casey slung one of the two lanyards he’d grabbed from Leo around Raph’s neck. “Like the surprise?”
He scowled. “Did everyone know but me?”
Mikey grinned. “Yup. You two are so adorable.”
“Mikey…” As usual, his little bro completely ignored the warning in his voice, but was spared by Leo.
“Guys. Focus. Mission here.” Leo turned back to Mona. “Was Sal Commander able to learn where in the auction house the piece of the black hole generator was? Fugitoid and Donnie didn’t have much luck.”
She shook her head. “No. They are very protective of that information. We will need to seek it out on our own.”
Leo nodded. “Ok. For the sake of time, we are going to have to split up.”
“I’m with April!” Casey and Donnie spoke almost simultaneously, but Casey was a split second faster and wrapped an arm around her shoulders while smugly lording the victory over a very disappointed Donnie. April shrugged his arm off and just shook her head at the both of them.
Raph sidled up next to Mona and dared anyone to challenge his chosen pairing.
Mikey clamped onto Donnie with a wide grin. “Aww yeah. The B team is back in business.”
Don clapped a hand over his face and groaned. “Don’t call us that.”
Leo nodded approvingly. “I’ll go on my own. To avoid blowing each other’s cover at an inopportune moment, we’ll keep in touch via communication through Fugitoid on the ship. Check in frequently. That’s not a request. And Mikey…don’t…touch…anything.”
Mikey slumped. “Party pooper.”
Leo ignored him. “Okay team. We go around to the front, get inside and fan out.”
Darth Maul slowly returned to awareness, piecing his last memories together. Visions of his own saber, piercing his chest, willing himself through the pain and exhaustion to crawl to an escape pod, the Star Forge exploding, sending his tiny vessel tumbling through space, all danced through his mind. His rage burned hot as his eyes snapped open.
Reaching for his belt, he discovered that the remaining half of his saberstaff was gone. Drawing his hand further up, he could feel the hole in his chest, now a healed over scar. A few experimental motions confirmed that his legs were still functional, though restrained. Insufficiently restrained. Whoever had him, didn’t know who he was. But they would.
Looking out through the window of his glass casket, he could see a green, gelatinous blob with a large, cavernous mouth and eyeballs formed of clear jelly, oozing towards him. It had several tentacle-like arms, made out of the same gooey material as it’s body. One held a digital clipboard while the other started typing into a panel, just outside his prison.
Gradually, the burbling and popping sounds it made, transitioned into intelligible speech. “…and there. That ought to do it. Now it should be ready for Captain Xizalt’s interrogation.”
Interrogation huh? Yes, there would be an interrogation. He began to focus on the glass.
The blob squealed and rolled backwards as shards exploded outward from the front of his prison. Before it could flee, he caught the creature with his will, freezing it in place.
“You are going to tell me where this Captain Xizalt is. Now.”
“Ooh, can I…”
“Mikey!” For about the millionth time, Don restrained his brother from picking up the nearest shiny object that fell within his line of sight.
“Aww, come on D, you can’t tell me you don’t want to check all this stuff out.”
He could see his brother’s intelligent, brown eyes rover over the buffet of neat stuff longingly before shaking his head. “I want to avoid getting arrested more.”
Mikey sighed dejectedly. Almost had him. This was going to be so boring. He was just preparing himself for a major snorefest, when they turned the next corner and his eyes about popped out of his head.
Don was too late to grab him as he darted forward to get a closer look. It was the most beautiful, life-like statue he’d ever seen. Her skin was a lovely shade of orange with geometric, cream colored shapes decorating her forehead and cheeks. It looked like she was wearing a zebra-themed, pharaoh headdress which seemed an odd combination with her simple but practical tank top tunic and pants.
The clear box that housed her, hummed bright with energy and reminded him strongly of the story of Snow White from the tattered book of fairytales that Don used to read to him at bedtime. He didn’t know who made the sculpture or why, but was glad they did. The universe was better for it.
He could sense his brother beside him. “Mikey…”
“This is my new most favoritest piece of art ever. She looks so real.”
Donnie leaned forward, reading the panel below the exhibit. “That’s because she is real.”
Mikey’s eyes grew owl-wide as he blinked at Don. “What?”
Donnie pointed at the sign. “It says here that she’s in stasis. A relic of the great upheaval, centuries ago. She was found on…”
He raised a hand before his clever, yet oddly-dense-sometimes brother could rattle on any further. “Whoa, whoa, whoa. Slow your roll D. You mean to tell me that they’re selling a person here? A real, live person?”
That stopped Don as his face twisted in distaste. “Yes, I suppose they are. Although she’s been in stasis so long, I’m not sure she can be revived, so…”
Mikey crossed his arms defiantly. “Get her out of there, Donnie. Right now.”
Don hesitated. “If we draw that kind of attention to ourselves, we’ll be lucky not to get caught. There will be no chance of completing our mission. And she might not ever wake up.”
Mikey remained unmoved, unusually serious in the face of his brother’s logic. “What if someone had picked up the Pulverizer’s ice jar from Earth and was selling it here? You’d be cool with that, just because they might not know how to unfreeze him?”
He watched Donnie swallow hard at the mention of Timothy, his eyes clouding over with guilt.
“Fine. Get a smoke bomb ready. Drop it the moment I’ve deactivated the outer-casing. We grab her, run and hide. When an opportunity presents itself, we’ll make a break for the Fugitoid’s ship. Maybe he’ll know what to do.”
Mikey grinned and clapped a hand on Donnie’s shoulder. “I knew I could count on you D.”
As Donnie discretely tapped away at the control panel, trying to look nonchalant and failing badly at it, Mikey stepped up to the glass coffin.
“Hang on in there. You’ll be free soon.”
Captain Xizalt preened gloppily as Appraiser Vayn eyed the escape pod greedily. Vayn’s gaunt frame always reminded him of the large stick bugs that served Lord Dregg. Only the enormous bony skull with its protruding horns and jagged teeth spoiled the illusion. Vayn’s eye sockets glowed green with avarice as his gaze rove over the piece, Xizalt had brought him.
“Extraordinary. And you say that you can get more of this?”
Captain Xizalt burbled excitedly as he rubbed his tentacles together. “I have an excellent lead.” He always hated how his voice sounded through the translators, but that was the price of doing business.
Vayn turned his eerie visage away from the ship and back to Xizalt. “If get your flagellum on more, bring them to me first. I will offer top zemulac for it.”
Excellent. He’d be able to retire to a life of leisure off this haul. All he needed was to get the humanoid alien to talk. There was the matter of his other find to deal with too.
“I’ve also got this.”
He held out the weapon he’d taken off his captive, igniting into a beam of bright red.
Vayn snorted derisively. “I’ll grant you that whoever built this knew what they were doing, but one: it’s new and not an artifact of the old era. Two: it’s damaged. Clearly someone has cut a piece off the bottom.” Xizalt retracted the blade in disappointment. “Come, I will show you what true artifacts look like.”
Vayn waved for him to follow over to a display case on the far side of the office/cargo bay that the appraiser worked out of. Typing in a complex pattern of key swipes, vocal codes and genetic identification, the lid lifted with a hiss. Vayn reached in and drew out a metal lightsaber handle.
“Now this is a true piece and very rare.” It flared to life as a black beam of absent light with white bursts of lightning crackling across it. “This I keep for my personal collection.”
Although he didn’t really see the appeal himself, Xizalt drooled at the perceived value of the item. True to form, he couldn’t help but take a peek at what else was in the cabinet of treasure.
“What are those?” He gestured towards a set of three metal cubes.
Vayn shut down the saber and followed Xizalt’s line of sight. “Those? Holocrons. The vast quantity of information and way it’s stored and retrieved is wholly unique. I believe they were once used for training purposes by the old religion. I am collecting them, so if you happen to come across any…”
Xizalt schooled his droopy features into a smile. “You’ll get first dibs.”
Vayn matched his expression with his own nightmarish grin. He moved with the intention of putting his saber back into the safe, when the large, reinforced door by Xizalt’s escape pod screeched open.
Furious, Vayn tromped back towards the door, calling out. “I said I was not to be disturbed. Why did you not contact me for permission first?”
He halted as a dark figure stepped into the room, dropping the lifeless body of Vayn’s assistant. Xizalt shuddered in shock as he realized it was the alien, supposedly imprisoned back on his ship.
Its fiery eyes narrowed at them. “I don’t need permission.”
Vayn quickly switched from advancing to backpedaling. “What…what do you want?”
The alien approached. “I am taking back what is mine.”
It reached out a hand and Xizalt felt his weapon tear from his gelatinous grasp as it flew back to its original owner.
Vayn gasped. “Impossible.”
The alien strode towards them. At this distance, Xizalt could see that it was covered in the life fluid of his crew. This was bad. Very, very bad.
Vayn dove for his desk, which presumably had some kind of panic button, but the alien turned to him and he froze, quite unwillingly if his expression was any indication. The alien sauntered over to him and plucked the saber from Vayn’s grasp.
“This belongs to me.”
Xizalt flinched away as the intruder activated the weapon straight into Vayn’s head. Perhaps he could still escape with his life. As subtly as possible he oozed toward the door, trying to go unnoticed as the alien scanned the contents of Vayn’s open vault, plucking out the holocrons and tucking them away somewhere in the clothing that solids always insisted on wearing.
He was almost to the door when the alien landed in front of him, completing a leap of impossible distance.
“And now, Captain, it’s your turn.”
With a gloppy shriek, Xizalt tried to flee, but it was too late. Hearing the weapons buzz into activation, he never even saw the final blow.
Casey glided after April as she slipped through the exhibits, turning corner after corner without hesitation.
“You sure you know where you’re going, Red?”
Reflexively reaching up to touch her Aeon pendant, she answered without slowing. “Yes. What we’re looking for…it’s this way…but something…something is wrong. I don’t know what though.”
He sighed and followed. She knew, even without her abilities, that he was growing bored. Not that aimlessly wandering would have been any more interesting. It just would have guaranteed him getting them into trouble.
She was so close. Just one more turn and…
She halted in front of an office at the corner of the building and ducked low to avoid being seen in the open glass windows that constituted the upper half of the closed-off room, tugging Casey down with her.
There was no piece of the black hole generator in that room, but the little alien, who resembled a small, mutant groundhog, knew something about it. She could sense him, seated at a desk among floating, holographic reports. He was some kind of important clerk.
She held up a hand to silence Casey. “That guy knows something. Something important. But he’s not thinking about it right now, so I have to dig deeper.”
She was concentrating so hard that she didn’t see Casey smile. Before she knew it he was up and busting into the office. The alien let out a tiny ‘eep’ and reached for a large red button on his desk, but with his hover boots, Casey was too fast, snatching the little fellow up and slamming him hard against the glass.
“Where’s the black hole generator piece?”
April’s mind flooded with the information she sought at Casey’s prompt.
The groundhog squeaked in pain and fear. “I don’t know what you’re talking about.”
Casey raised a gloved hand between them, ejecting his taser and activating it enough for electricity to spark off of it. The alien swallowed hard and began to tremble. She knew why he didn’t want to answer. Given what he assumed about the attack, he was anticipating being a shot messenger once the truth came out. So she answered for him.
“It’s not here. They got a fake and are trying to cover it up. Allowing the rumors to circulate before verification will hurt their credibility, so now they need to deny all knowledge.”
The groundhog gaped at her disbelief as Casey growled. “Waste of freaking time.” He dropped the little alien.
Depressing the button on her collar communicator, she checked in. “Fugitoid, April here. The auction house doesn’t have it. We’re on our way back. Recall the others when they contact you.”
Fugitoid’s voice crackled back. “Oh dear. That’s not good.”
Casey stomped angrily past her. “Come on Red. Time to bail.”
Raph could tell that he was grinning like an idiot as he walked beside Mona, but he didn’t care. Seeing her in person was so rare that he was on cloud nine. Sure they were in almost constant, long-distance communication but being able to see, smell and feel her, to bask in her presence was a million times better. Nothing could ruin today.
Until he saw something that about made his heart stop. It couldn’t be. He was dead. Leo had killed him.
“Raphael? Are you unwell?”
He shook his head as the sound of Mona’s voice broke through his shock. “I…I just thought I saw a ghost. Hang on a second, I’ll be right back.”
He rushed after where he’d caught the glimpse of him. There would be no resting easy until he’d checked it out. Stopping at the intersection where the ominous figure had passed by, he slow drew his gaze through the crowds of bizarre aliens in all directions, seeking a nightmare.
At the last second, he sensed the danger behind him and spun, barely bringing up his plasma jitte in time to shield himself from the kick. As it was, Darth Maul drilled his robotic foot into the thick handles of Raph’s weapons instead of his chest, driving him back with the force of the blow.
As Raph shook off the shock and prepared to fight back, Darth Maul pressed a button on a remote control. The three vertical, metal columns that Raph had been pushed into the middle of, lit up blindingly and force fields shot out, connecting them almost instantaneously. He darted forward in a last ditch effort to escape, but collided with the energy barrier as it manifested in front of him.
“Aaaah!” It burned and jolted before throwing him back. He shook off the effects to see Darth Maul looking smugly down at him.
“You should have been paying more attention to the exhibits. This portable prison comes with a very high starting bid. I needed to test it out first.”
Raph growled. Not another cage. Not again.
“How are you even alive?”
The smirk dissolved into a scowl. “You and your allies underestimated my power. Power that could also be yours if you’d stop resisting.”
Furious, Raph attacked the force field with his jitte, shattering the weapons against it in small but violent explosion. Great. Now he’d have to listen to Donnie complain the whole time he made him a new pair. And the stupid blast had fried his communicator. Perfect. Today had sure gone down the tubes fast.
“You…you are responsible for his injuries!”
They both turned and Raph’s heart dropped into his throat. “Mona no! Get away from here!”
She was too angry to listen. “You face a reckoning fiend!”
He was barely cognizant of the screaming and fleeing patrons as Mona brandished her energy blade and charged in.
Wielding the remains of his old staff and a creepy new saber he’d managed to pick up in the interim, Maul blocked her barrage of strikes. But that was it. She was faster than him, spinning, stabbing, and slashing. It took both his weapons and that obnoxious ability to predict his opponent’s moves to keep Mona’s attacks at bay. Stronger than him with each strike, she drove him back, jarring him with each blow and, despite the danger, Raph couldn’t help but be mesmerized anew at Mona’s prowess. She was truly amazing.
Roaring, Mona slashed at his chest with her bladed gauntlet while holding his sabers back with her sword. He arched back, breaking his weapons free as she spun around, seeking to impale his skull with her spiked tail guard.
He flipped back and away, searing two of the four spikes off her weapon with his blades as he did so. She didn’t even give him a chance to land before firing at him with her wrist blaster. His swords deflected each blast back at her, but she darted through her own hail of blasts, blade at the ready to spear him through the torso.
Until she abruptly stopped, frozen in the air, mid leap as Darth Maul held out his hand out in front of him, having dropped the red blade.
“You fight without honor!” Mona’s growled accusation broke through Raph’s horrified paralysis.
Holding her in place with one hand, Maul was going to kill her.
Darth Maul’s eyes flicked over to him and the eerie smile he saw on the bastard’s face froze his blood. “She’s yours isn’t she?”
Ignoring the pain, he pounded wildly on the energy barrier holding him back. “If you hurt her, I swear I’m going to…”
Mona’s movement was released for the barest of instants before red lightning arced from Maul’s free hand straight into her forehead. She jerked violently before dropping unconscious to the ground.
“That should keep her down for a while.”
Raph couldn’t tell if Maul was speaking to him or himself as he scanned the nearby displays, selecting a coil of metal rope from one of the tables. Running a finger along the interface slide at one end of the device, the rope shot out and entangled Mona’s body, binding her tightly.
Then he hefted the Salamandrian up over one shoulder and spared Raph a final glance. “I’ll be taking her with me. When you’ve decided to reconsider my offer, come see me. And don’t take too long. Her life will depend on you not wasting too much time being indecisive.”
Raph roared as Maul, walked away, banging painfully on the walls of his prison. This wasn’t working. He needed to do something else. Now. What would Leo do? Plan. Look around. Find anything and everything he could to use. But all he saw where those stupid metal pillars.
What would Donnie do? He’d figure out how they worked and disable them. But even if Raph was sure he could do that, there was no time.
Oh lord was he desperate, but what would Mikey do? Cringing, he could almost hear his brother’s voice in his head. Turtle pin ball dude! Well why not?
Taking a deep breath, he rammed his shell into the nearest pillar. It dented inward slightly, flickering briefly for an instant. Yes, this would work.
Letting out a deafening battle cry he began throwing himself against the force field generators with wild abandon.
After a while of fruitless searching, Leo was debating whether or not it was worth the risk of trying to subtly ask one of the other patrons or employees. Was there a subtle way of inquiring about the sale of a doomsday device? Their training was a little light on the spy craft and manipulation as no one anticipated them ever having the chance to make use of such skills. He was regretting it now. Maybe he could…
Leo staggered as he was hit with the full force of Raph’s anger…and fear. It was so intense. Was this what April dealt with all the time? He’d been getting flashes of it since the battle on Star Forge, but nothing like this. Something was wrong with Raph. His brother needed him. Now.
Abandoning the mission, Leo turned and ran trying to use his intuition to guide him towards his brother. It was so much more difficult to call upon intentionally. Clearing another intersection, he gasped as he spied Darth Maul approaching, with a bound and unconscious Mona Lisa slung over his shoulder. How? He’d killed him. Hadn’t he?
Maul glared at him with unadulterated hatred. “You.”
Tossing Mona carelessly aside, he drew a pair of mismatched light sabers. One the other half of the blade tucked in Leo’s armor and the other new, appearing to emit anti-light.
Brandishing his plasma katana, Leo set his disquiet aside and rushed forward, breaking aside at the last second to dart in from an angle, spinning as he slashed to generate additional force.
But Maul sensed the move before he executed it and was ready to block. Leo knew the kick was coming, somehow, and ducked, rolling backwards to evade it by the narrowest of margins.
Maul was already coming for him as he completed the roll and he brought up his katana, realizing too late that he had the wrong sides up, not normally a problem with his regular blades in an ordinary fight. The plasma edge was down facing him and Maul’s light sabers cut cleanly through exposed backs of his weapons, destroying them.
Dropping the useless handles, he flipped back again, pulling out the light saber he’d taken off of Maul as he did so. It didn’t have the same vulnerability as he blocked, but they were well matched on martial skill and Maul had two blades to his one. He was on the defensive. This wasn’t good. He needed a plan. But there was no attention to be spared from the current battle if he hoped to survive it.
In fact, he was so wrapped up in not being sliced to pieces, focusing intently on where each next strike would fall that he didn’t even notice the auction house’s troops until they were already surrounded with countless blasters aimed at them from all directions. They’d broken apart to discover how screwed they were.
Then he felt a blast of energy aimed his way and, remembering the debilitating lightning attack that Maul had used before, struggled to pull together enough focus to shield himself, knowing that he wasn’t going to make it in time.
“Leo!” How he had not seen his brother pushing through the crowd of soldiers before, he didn’t know, but Raph was here now, throwing himself between Leo and the lightning. Except it wasn’t lightning, but a powerful wave of invisible energy striking Raph and slamming Raph into Leo like a wrecking ball, throwing them both back into a line of exhibits, that immediately collapsed down on top of them, all naturally being constructed from weighty metal and full of sharp painful angles.
He could hear screams and weapons being fired above him. Leo groaned as he dug himself free.
“Noooo!” Raph’s howl prompted him to pull faster at the debris, clawing himself free of the pile. Beside him, surrounded by his own rubble heap, knelt the trembling form of his brother.
Beyond that lay the bodies of dozens of private security soldiers. He could hear the boots of the survivors pounding off into the distance as they gave chase, continuing to fire. Darth Maul was nowhere to be seen. And neither was Mona Lisa.
A flash of watching the Earth’s destruction, knowing that Karai had been somewhere on it, waiting for him, flashed through his head. He knew exactly how Raph was feeling right now.
Falling to the ground beside his brother, he wrapped his arms around Raph’s shell. “We’ll get her back. I promise.”
Raph shuddered with the effort of fighting back tears, unwilling to let go of the last bastion of his pride.
Keeping an arm around Raph, Leo activated his communicator. “Fugitoid, we have a problem.”