Donnie watched Fugitoid scan the young, alien woman who lay on the table where Mikey had gently placed her. Mikey had pulled up a stool next to the table and was drumming on it as he sat with that brimming energy that never seemed to wane.
Donnie recognized the look on his little brother’s face as he stared down at the rescued alien. He should. He’d seen it often enough in reflections. Pulling up another stool, he seated himself next to Mikey who looked up at him in surprise.
“You know, if…I mean when, she wakes up, she might not be anything like what you’re building up in your head.”
Mikey flushed, making his freckles stand out even more than usual. “I don’t know what you’re talking about.”
Don raised an eye ridge. “You think that I, of all people, wouldn’t recognize the way you’re looking at her.”
Mikey looked down, avoiding Don’s piercing gaze. “It’s…it’s not like that. Already learned my lesson on that.” Learned his lesson? Mikey returned his gaze to Donnie, earnest and unusually serious. “I…she needs our help Donnie. I know it. We have to help her. It’s what we do.”
Whether he willed it or not, his mind started reviewing his brother’s comment and all pertinent data from his memory to fit the pieces together and generate a hypothesis.
“I know. And we will.” He paused, not sure if investigating would be helpful or hurtful, but ultimately couldn’t help himself. Seeking answers was too fundamental a part of who he was. “What happened with Renet?”
Mikey froze, then looked away as he drew his knees up to his chest. “I’ll never see her again.”
Frowning, Don placed a reassuring hand on his brother’s shell. “You can’t know that.”
Mikey’s arms tightened around his curled up legs, feet bracing against the stool for balance. “Right after we met Mona and Sal Commander, he let her come say goodbye. Lord Simultaneous. He said it was the last time, that we shouldn’t have even met in the first place, but the time scepter has a will of its own sometimes. We can’t see each other again or we might break the time-space continent.”
“Continuum.” Don corrected out of rote habit as he processed what his brother was telling him.
Donnie tightened his grip on the edge of his brother’s shell and pulled, forcing Mikey to turn towards him. “Why didn’t you say anything?”
He shrugged, still evading Don’s eyes. “Everyone was still dealing with watching what happened to Earth, it didn’t seem right to bother anyone.”
Donnie frowned. “We’re here for each other and we want to be. How could you have seemed so cheerful?”
Mikey looked up and arranged his features into a disturbingly natural smile. “Because you guys needed it.”
In that moment Donnie was angry, because it was true. Their determination and optimism with regard to their mission had been buoyed up by Mikey’s ever-present, upbeat attitude, refusing to let any of them sink into a cloud of depression. At what cost though? He too had lost a world. Friends. A father. And more apparently.
Donnie pulled his little brother into a one armed hug. “You have right to hurt too. We need you, but you need us too. Don’t shut us out, okay?”
Mikey let out a very uncharacteristic, dry chuckle and nodded. “Either way, I think I think I’m done with romance.”
Don watched Mikey’s eyes flick back towards the girl on the table and had to physically restrain himself from snorting out loud. Fat chance of that. If it was so easy, his own life certainly would be a lot less complicated.
“It’s not always up to you, Mikey. Don’t give up so easily.”
His brother’s eyes still reflected doubt, but Don could see a flicker of hope in there too and was satisfied with that. No one could nurture hope like Mikey.
“Well, I’ve finished my analysis.” They both jerked back, nearly toppling off their stools as Fugitoid popped up in front of them. “It would seem she’s been moved between different stasis-maintaining units over time without being properly awakened in between. That’s probably why her vitals are so low and unresponsive. That and she appears to have been kept in stasis for several millennia, which, as you all know, is highly inadvisable.”
Mikey blinked at Fugitoid in confusion, but Donnie got the gist. He just didn’t like the implications. “Can you bring her back?”
For a moment, Fugitoid’s confident posture set Donnie’s mind at ease. “Probably not.”
Donnie flinched and Mikey reached out, grabbing Fugitoid by the shoulders. “You can’t just give up.”
Fugitoid’s eye lights arched into cheerful semi circles as he held up a finger to correct Mikey. “I didn’t say that. There are several methods I can try to revive her. You merely need to keep your expectations realisti…”
Mikey enthusiastically wrapped his arms around Fugitoid. “I knew you could do it! So when do we start?”
“Well…” Fugitoid trailed off, his eyes becoming oscillating concentric circles and Don knew he was receiving a communication. “Oh dear. That’s not good.”
Leo trudged back onto the ship, Raph barely a step behind, unnaturally silent the entire way back. He almost wished his brother would yell, rant…something. At least he knew what to do with that.
Donnie, April and Casey rushed up to greet them as they boarded. “Guys, Fugitoid said…”
Leo dumped their broken equipment in Donnie’s arms to cut him off, both of them already knowing what he’d told Fugitoid.
Looking down at the ruined katana, jitte and communicator, Don sighed in exasperation and started to comment until Leo shook his head in warning. Donnie’s eyes softened with sorrow as his glance darted quickly to Raph’s still, silent frame and back. “I’ll…get started on these.”
Casey was a little less apt to take the hint. “What happened? I thought you got that creepwad.”
Leo frowned, willing Casey to shut up. “Apparently not.”
“Dude needs to know when to stay down.”
April elbowed Casey and silenced him with a look before turning back to Raph and Leo. “We’ll get her back.”
Raph tensed. “How?”
“The attack on the auction house was really high profile. Right now he’s on a lot of law enforcement radar, so we’re tracking his movements through the ship he stole.”
Raph frowned. “And if he slips them?”
Casey crossed his arms over his chest and glared. “Doesn’t he want you to find him?”
Leo could feel Raph shudder beside him, but his brother answered anyway. “If finding him is part some kind of test of my worthiness, then ‘not easily’ and I’m not staking Mona’s life on him sending out formal invitations to wherever he decides to hide out.”
“I can track her, like I did you and Donnie.” April sounded confident, but Leo wasn’t so sure.
“You don’t have the same connection to Mona that you have to us.” Apparently Raph shared his doubts.
But April remained unfazed. “But you do. I can use you as a conduit…I think.”
Well this was promising. There was still an issue he’d been avoiding.
“But what do we do when we find them?” April’s intuition picked on the one thing he didn’t want to discuss, but knew talking about was vital to moving forward.
“We put him down. For good this time.” Unwarranted confidence filled Casey’s voice, as usual.
“Can we?” Raph looked at Leo as he spoke, wanting the truth, not empty reassurances.
Leo owed him that much. “No. I took him by surprise last time. He won’t make the same mistake again. Without being on equal footing with his Force wielding abilities…”
“Then we do what he wants. Trade me for her.” There was no equivocation in Raph’s voice.
“No.” Leo’s hoarse reply, involuntarily escaped his throat. He knew this was where the conversation was heading, but still couldn’t help rejecting it with his entire being.
Raph was unbending. “Like you’d do anything different if it were you and Karai.”
Any denial would have been a lie. But he couldn’t let that monster have his little brother. Not again.
“Well then, Leonardo had better learn Force wielding.” They all turned as Fugitoid entered the room. “Don’t forget about that location I mentioned earlier.”
Leo frowned. “It’s a long shot.”
“But you’re right. It’s all we’ve got.”
Raph glared at Fugitoid. “You think we’ve got time for field trips?”
Fugitoid’s metal hands fluttered in front of him. “Heavens no. Leonardo will have to take the shuttle. The site my colleague pointed out is relatively close, so he should be able to get there without burning too much fuel, particularly since I’ve transferred most of our remaining stores from the main ship.”
“What?” The incredulity in Raph’s voice echoed through the large space.
“Well, we can easily refuel on the way. And Leonardo will need it if he’s going to use the homing-hyper drive to get back to us. Otherwise, he may as well not go at all.”
Raph’s mouth compressed into a thin line but he didn’t argue.
This wouldn’t be a wild goose chase. It couldn’t. There was too much at stake. He turned to Raph. “Hang on as long as you can. I won’t fail you.”
All Raph could manage in return was a stiff nod.
“Ah, fifth times the charm.” The robotic voice pulled Ahsoka back towards consciousness. It was like drowning in mud, trying to claw her way to the surface, but she finally managed to drag her heavy lids open to see a round green face smiling down at her. His sky blue eyes were framed pleasantly with an orange piece of fabric. Freckles dusted his chubby cheeks. One word came to mind. Cute.
Then her last memories came rushing back, slamming into her like a physical blow. She’d failed and lost everything. And now she was in some unknown place. Among strangers.
Adrenaline flooded her body and her muscles screamed in protest as she forced herself to flip to her feet, drawing and igniting her blindingly white, twin light sabers.
Although he’d backed up a bit when she’d jumped up, the endearing turtle alien wasn’t preparing to fight her, irrationally trusting that she wouldn’t slay him. For a moment she was uncertain. Then the room flooded with strangers. Two more turtle-beings, two humanoids and a cyborg.
With a roar she flung them back against the wall, the use of her power physically painful as it sluggishly responded to her call. The orange turtle, darted in between…shielding her from the others?
“It’s cool. Give her some space, dudes.” He looked back at her and she found herself involuntarily relaxing. “It’s okay. We rescued you. You’re safe now.”
Safe? What did he know? She’d already failed at her most important task. At least the boy, Ezra, had gotten away. She hoped. But what was left for her? Drained, she sank into a heap on the table, light sabers shutting down.
“I’m Michelangelo. You can call me Mikey though.” The orange turtle, suddenly at her side, gave her a broad smile.
It was hard not to answer. And what point was there in hiding who she was? “Ahsoka Tano. I was a padawan of the Jedi Order.”
The green-eyed turtle startled and spun on the cyborg. “She’s one of those Jedi people! Call Leo back. She can teach him Force stuff.”
She stiffened as his words sunk in. “I am no Jedi!”
Her words echoed through the room and for second she was back at that temple, shouting the same thing at the man who betrayed her. The man who’d destroyed her master and her dearest friend. The man against whom her vengeance had failed. She was in no position to teach anyone anything.
The green-eyed turtle shrugged. “Whatever. You can use the Force or whatever it is. You can teach my brother.”
“No.” Her voice sounded ragged even to her own ears.
“Look lady, we saved you from being sold off as an ornamental decoration, so…”
“Back off, Raph.” Mikey stepped between her and the advancing turtle, whose name was evidently Raph. “She said, no.”
Raph growled. “I can’t accept that.”
Mikey shook his head. “Bro, you have to.”
“She could change everything.” He turned his gaze from Mikey to her and she could see a hint of desperation in his green eyes. “Why?”
Her shoulders drooped. “I never completed my own training. I was only a student and I’m not even that anymore. I’m unfit to teach anyone.”
He wasn’t giving up. “That doesn’t mean you can’t try.”
The orange-haired, humanoid female placed a gentle, restraining hand on his shoulder.
He looked over at her. “April?”
“Remember at the farm house, when I wanted you to keep teaching me? Our home, the world, it was all at stake, but no matter how I begged, you insisted that I keep practicing what I already knew. It was like pulling teeth to get you to show me even the most basic version of anything new.”
Raph frowned at her. “Because, even though I’m good. I’m not Master Splinter. I’m still learning. I probably would have done more harm than good. When students try teaching martial arts to others, you end up with messes like Donnie and the Pulverizer.”
The brown-eyed turtle in the purple mask flinched and looked away. “He’s right. What happened to the Pulverizer, to Timothy, was my fault.”
Raph winced and turned to Donnie. “I didn’t mean…”
“And that’s why Ahsoka shouldn’t teach Leo.”
Caught in his own argument, Raph quivered in frustration.
April tried again. “I know what’s at stake. Mona Lisa. And you. But we need to give Leo’s mission a chance.”
April shook her head. “I don’t know…but it feels right. I think it needs to be this way.”
Raph sighed. “Your intuition?”
“Fine.” Before another word could be said, he stomped angrily from the room.
“Well that’s great. We’re right back to where we freaking started.” The humanoid boy threw his hands up and followed the turtle out.
The cyborg clacked its fingers together. “We should probably give our guest some time and space to rest.” He approached, holding a device out towards her, it’s screen full of flowing information. “You’ve been in stasis a long time. In case you want to catch up on history.” He turned back to the others. “Come along then.”
As he ushered the others out, Mikey tossed an encouraging grin back her way. “When you’re feeling up to it, I’ll show you around.”
The door closed behind them, leaving her alone in the whirlwind of her thoughts.
Mikey waited until everyone was appropriately distracted before sneaking back to the med bay to check on Ahsoka. He hadn’t really been able to settle knowing that she was sitting in there all alone. He knew that whenever he wasn’t feeling well, the last thing he wanted was to be alone.
Except maybe that time he’d gotten shellacne. Although that was less about wanting to be alone and more about the being afraid to let anyone see him. He wouldn’t have minded Murakami-san’s company that day.
He crept silently up to the door, just in case she was asleep and peeked his head in. Instead of laying down and resting, as she’d been instructed to do, she was pacing on wobbly legs, the portable computer thingy that she’d been given in pieces on the floor. Donnie wasn’t going to like that. He’d say he did it.
“You ok in there?”
Startled by the sound of his voice, her head snapped over towards the door. She quickly shook off the surprise, frowning at the floor. “My reflexes are not what they were…”
Taking that as an invitation, he bounded into the room with a grin. “No worries. I can be mega-groggy when I first wake up too. Besides, I’ve got ninja stealth, yo.”
He struck a pose as he spoke and she just stared uncomprehendingly. Not letting that deter him, he edged closer, leaning against the table. “Feeling better now?”
She clearly wasn’t but it was the best way to gauge whether or not she was ready to talk about it. Despite what Donnie and Leo and Sensei and…well everyone said. He was amaze-balls at listening. He was just selective in the application of the skill.
For a moment she looked indecisive, before her shoulders slumped and she looked away. “It’s all gone. Everything I knew.”
“Yeah, I hear that.”
His eyes widened a bit as she turned to glare at him. “What? How could you possibly…?”
He threw up his hands in surrender as he rushed to explain his comment. “Our world’s gone, or it will be if we fail.”
She looked nonplussed. “A single planet hardly compares to what I’ve lost.”
He felt his smile slip, unable to maintain it as the memory of Earth crumbling into the black hole replayed in his head.
“I guess it probably doesn’t seem like much, but it was everything to us. I didn’t even know there was anything out in space, but twinkly stars. I mean I always hoped, but our world was all we had. Watching it…”
He took a breath, breaking off that train of thought and pasting a smile back on his face, though it felt a bit strained. “Anyway, until Fugitoid gave us a second chance, it was rough. Sorry everything is different for you know, but there’s some pretty cool stuff in the universe that you might like now. You wouldn’t believe some of the neat things we’ve seen.”
As he spoke, he could see her anger dissipating. “I…I should not have dismissed your loss.”
He shook his head. “Nah, you’ve had a rough…however long you were out.” Finally, she was starting to smile, despite how sucky this must be for her.
“Hey, you wanna take that tour now?”
She sighed and started to step towards him until her legs gave out. In a flash he was in front of her, catching her before she crumbled to the floor, noting that she smelled nice, kind of like fabric softener, but not the real stuff. More like the way he imagined it smelled in commercials.
Gritting her teeth in frustration, she gripped the table for support. “I’m used to being stronger than this.”
Well, of course. She’d been asleep for like forever. She must be starving. He sure couldn’t do anything when he was hungry. “Wait here, I’ll be right back.”
A quick trip to the think-a-food machine later, he returned with a platter of pizza, sadly bland with only cheese and pepperoni, but he didn’t want to get adventurous with the toppings until he had a better sense of her tastes.
“This will make everything better.” He held the platter out towards her triumphantly.
She raised an eyebrow at him questioningly. Hmm, maybe she didn’t have pizza in the past. Those poor people. He certainly didn’t mind demonstrating for her.
Selecting a particularly gooey slice, he popped it into his mouth in a single bite, losing himself in the exquisite flavor and texture as he did so. Coming down from the pizza high, he noted that she was struggling to hide her amusement. Good. That was better.
With a half-smile, she selected a piece of her own and took a tentative bite. Her eyes widened in shock and she followed it up with a second and third more enthusiastic bites. He was feeling quite pleased with himself, until he saw her expression after the fourth bite and snatched up a nearby waste bin, just in time for her to toss her cookies.
Trying not to dwell on the wasted pizza, he hurriedly pressed the button his communicator, never removed after their last mission. “Help! Emergency!”
Fugitoid’s electronic voice beeped back at him. “Michelangelo?”
“Ahsoka is sick. It can’t be the pizza, so something’s wrong. Grab Donnie and get here double time. No make that triple time.”
There was a lengthy pause before Fugitoid answered. “Umm, Michelangelo…you tried giving her pizza?”
He froze as a terrible realization hit him. What if her alien species couldn’t eat pizza? It was too terrible to contemplate. There had to be away.
Unaware of the downward spiral of his thoughts, Fugitoid continued. “After such a long *beep* period in stasis, she probably shouldn’t eat solid foods just yet. Give her body some time to adjust. You might want to start her on some broth first.”
He almost sagged in relief. “Thanks Fugi-dude.”
Mikey ended the call and dashed out of the room again, this time returning with a steaming bowl.
Ahsoka eyed it with greater caution. “Should I even ask?”
He grinned widely. “Pizza flavored broth, until you’re ready for the real thing again.”
She looked wistfully at the platter of pizza before spooning some of the broth into her mouth. “It’s good. Thank you Mikey.”
“Don’t mention it. Just focus on getting better, okay?”
She nodded, more relaxed than she’d seemed since waking up. “Okay.”
He reached out and pulled the platter of pizza back towards him. Waste not, want not or however the saying went.
Satisfied with their current course, he left the quivering mass of gelatin on the bridge, to go check on the cargo. The blob-like alien had seen what he’d done to all its shipmates and was too terrified to do more than scramble over itself to fulfill his every command. Still this ship was less than desirable. He’d have to trade it and his underling up at the first opportunity.
The cargo bay doors opened automatically at his approach and his prisoner glared up at him, her fury pouring off her in waves. She didn’t seem diminished by her lack of weapons and armor, wearing only an iridescent-green, scaled body-suit over her smooth blue flesh. It covered her torso from shoulder to thigh with separate pieces over her forearms and calves.
The moment he entered the room, she began hurling curses at him, none of which he could hear with the sound barrier activated. He was certain that she would serve as excellent bait to ascertain how worthy his prospective apprentice was of his teachings as well as insurance to assure his compliance.
The universe, in its current state, was an excellent blank-slate on which to rebuild. He could fashion it however he saw fit without interference. The prospect was exciting.
His prisoner was now banging soundlessly against the reinforced glass wall. She was an impressive warrior. Few had been able to offer him such a challenge, even in the old world. Perhaps there was a way to turn her too his purposes as well.
The affection seemed to run both ways. Once he had his apprentice, Raph the others of his kind had called him, perhaps, he could use him to guarantee her cooperation. She could be a very useful tool, if properly broken to his will. Not an easy task given how strong hers seemed to be. But she was a passionate it being. He could use that.
And even if he couldn’t, there were fail-safes in place. That auction house had been quite the boon of technological treasures. One way or another she would serve him.