Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles 1987

Down With Mutants!

By Lucky_Ladybug

Notes: The characters are not mine (save for the townspeople) and the story is! It was inspired by, of all things, The Mob Song and the tower battle from Beauty and the Beast. I tried to push the idea away, but it stubbornly stuck around until I could figure out how to make it work. ThickerThanLove also helped with some plot suggestions. This is part of my Exit the Fly verse. Baxter is human again and an ally of the Turtles. His brother Barney no longer works for Shredder.

It was a fairly peaceful afternoon. Barney had settled on one of the couches in the living room to grade papers, which was always a long and strange and sometimes exasperating process. He cringed at one student's terrible spelling. He wasn't an English teacher, but he couldn't refrain from pointing out all of the misspelled words. After all, misspelled words made a paper from any class look extremely sloppy, and he abhorred sloppiness.

He glanced over at Vincent, who had fallen asleep on the other couch. It was strange to watch him sleep. Being a computer, he of course didn't breathe. No rising and falling of the chest. Usually he stayed in one position, but occasionally he moved about, generally if he was dreaming. At the moment he was completely still, which was eerie for the viewer. It was both like and unlike watching organic beings sleep. Barney looked back to the atrocious paper.

Without warning Vincent gasped, his eyes flying open as he sat up straight on the couch.

Barney looked up with a start of surprise. "What's wrong?"

Vincent groaned. "I was dreaming about falling into the lava in Nightmare Land," he said softly. "Only it wasn't an illusion. . . ." He shuddered.

Barney set the papers aside. "I've dreamed about that too," he confessed. "Baxter and I both tried to save you, but we couldn't." He clenched his fists. "I'll never get the image of you falling out of my mind."

"Or the way you and Baxter looked. . . ." Vincent slumped back against the couch arm. "In the dream, death was . . . very painful and agonizing. And there was nothing for me afterwards. Just oblivion and darkness. I was gone."

"That is not going to happen," Barney snapped.

"You admitted that you were afraid it would," Vincent said.

Barney looked down. "Yes, I was. And part of me still is. But the other part can't really believe it, not when you're so alive. I can't believe God would let you really and truly die with no way to carry on."

"I don't even belong to this world," Vincent said. "I'm not native to it, at least. God might not think He had any responsibility for me."

"You live here. You've voluntarily chosen it as your home now. If God is the God of the whole Earth, that includes you as well."

Vincent smiled a bit. ". . . I wonder if it would be wise to back up all of my systems, my memory . . . everything that makes me who I am," he mused. "Then if something really did happen and I was destroyed, maybe . . . maybe I would still live on in some way."

Barney just frowned. "That would probably work if you were an artificially intelligent computer," he said. "But you're more than the sum of your parts. Of course we could duplicate your systems and your memories, but how could we ever duplicate you?"

"I don't know," Vincent said softly. "I guess I'm slipping back into computer logic."

"That's like saying that if we cloned Baxter, the clone would still be him," Barney remarked. "In appearance and basic functions, yes, it would be. But it wouldn't have Baxter's personality, his essence. You can't duplicate that. The only way it would really work for you would be if the . . . copy of your systems and memory was like a new body and your . . . soul could then go into it and make it you," Barney said.

"Then by that logic, you've just admitted that I must have a soul," Vincent said.

Barney sank into the couch. "So we'll just go around in circles. But if it would work that way, for your soul to have a back-up body, it's a good idea. Just in case the worst case scenario ever does happen and your body is destroyed."

"And that is possible," Vincent said quietly. "It's actually amazing that I wasn't destroyed before, considering how I kept losing more and more of my physical self."

". . . How did you not go to pieces mentally as well as physically when that kept happening?" Barney frowned.

"Sometimes I wonder myself," Vincent said. "But I had Baxter to look after. Maybe that was why. I knew I had to be strong for him, because he wasn't in any condition to be strong for anyone."

"You were good to him," Barney said. He paused. "Odd what suddenly comes to mind. I remember me commenting once that it was hard to believe you didn't have genuine intelligence. You just thanked me uncertainly and we moved on. Why didn't you tell me then that you weren't artificially intelligent?"

"I didn't think you were ready to hear it," Vincent said.

Barney fell silent. "You were probably right."

Vincent paused. "And I didn't trust you enough at that point," he added. "As I recall, that was early into our acquaintance. I wondered what you might do with that information or if you would try to exploit me."

"I never would have done that," Barney insisted.

Vincent smiled. "I know."

Barney looked down at the papers. "Anyway, if you want to try to back up your systems and memory, I'll think about it," he said. "As I said, it might be wise. But it would only really work if you have a soul. I don't want us to just have your memories; I want us to have you."

"I think it's worth a try," Vincent said.

Barney grunted and picked up the papers again.

Vincent sighed to himself. Barney didn't want to discuss the subject any more. Not that Vincent could blame him. It was a horrible, frightening thought that maybe he wouldn't always exist. The way Barney described it, a copy really would be missing something. Vincent couldn't really be in two places at once, after all. When he took over computers, he always had a home base where he was. There was only one of him projected to everything he was taking over. If he made an actual copy, it wouldn't be him. There would be something different-a soul, personality, essence . . . maybe something that couldn't really be put into words. For one thing, the copy wouldn't have any of his memories from past the point when the copy was made. Such a copy would only help his loved ones carry on with some version of him. It wouldn't help him carry on, unless, as Barney said, it was just a new body and his . . . essence could go into it. And his loved ones wouldn't be happy if that wasn't the case. Maybe it would be, but what if it wasn't?

He held a hand to the top of the laptop. If computers could get headaches, he had one. He decided to send an email to Baxter, who was away that day on assignment with Channel 6.

Hi, Baxter. How are things going? Anything interesting happening?

Vincent never signed his emails, but he sent them from Barney's account. Baxter always knew when it was Vincent talking, but not really because of Vincent's habit of not signing his. He simply recognized Vincent's more sociable nature coming through even in emails.

After a few minutes a reply came in.

Hello, Vincent. We haven't quite got there yet. Nothing has really happened on the drive. It's probably just a quiet little town. That's mostly all we've seen for the last thirty minutes.

Baxter

Vincent hoped that was true. And he hoped the assignment wouldn't take very long. He was always happiest when he knew Baxter was right in town, even if he wasn't at their house.

He glanced over at Barney, who was again occupied with grading papers. From past experience, he knew that Barney would be busy for a while. And unless it was pressing, he didn't like to be disturbed. Vincent decided to entertain himself by looking up whatever scant information there was on the town where Baxter was going.

xxxx

Vernon groaned as he looked out the news van's window and saw the main street of the small town they were pulling into. "I can't believe there's really a good story here," he complained.

"It looks like the town where the alien cabbages were taking over," Irma frowned, clearly squeamish.

"Well, then I'm all the more sure that the anonymous tip was right," April said. She turned off the engine and pocketed the key. "They said a mysterious creature had been spotted in the forest just outside of town. It could be a new mutant!"

"There haven't been any new ones in a while," Baxter remarked, adjusting his glasses. "I wonder if that means Krang has been experimenting again." He looked worried.

"The Turtles should be arriving right behind us," April said. "They wanted to check it out too." She started to climb out of the van.

At the same moment, a red-haired man with a newsboy cap emerged from the diner they had parked in front of. "April O'Neil?" he asked.

"That's me." April came around the van to meet him. "And this is my news crew-Irma Langinstein, Vernon Fenwick, and Dr. Baxter Stockman."

The stranger's eyes gleamed, but his only comment was, "I'm Rudy Gladstone, the town's only reporter. Come inside and we'll talk."

Baxter didn't know why, but something about Gladstone made him nervous. Still, there was nothing he could put his finger on and he couldn't see any reason not to do as requested. He and the others got out of the van and followed Gladstone into the diner.

The local reporter led them to a table in the corner and they all sat around it with him. "Can I order anything for you?" he asked.

"No, thank you," Baxter said quietly. "I was already eating this. I'll just finish it." He nibbled on a large Hershey's bar he had been eating in the van.

Gladstone raised an eyebrow. "That's some sweet tooth you've got."

Baxter shrugged and mumbled something unintelligible. He certainly didn't want to explain the reason for it.

April tried to change the subject. "Thanks for your offer, but we're more interested in the story than food."

"Speak for yourself," Irma muttered.

"I don't think I could eat without knowing what's going on here," Vernon whimpered.

"Here are the pictures I took of the thing in the woods," said Gladstone. He laid several dark photographs on the table.

Baxter frowned and picked one up. "I honestly don't see anything," he objected.

"It's that dark shape there." Gladstone pointed to something behind a pine tree.

"That looks like part of the tree," Irma said.

"You can see it better here." Gladstone took the last picture in the row and held it up.

April squinted. "Maybe I can," she said slowly. "That . . . reddish thing there?" She tapped one side of the picture.

"Exactly!" Gladstone nodded. "I figure it's a mutant fox, deer, or possibly a cat."

"Well, whatever it is doesn't seem to be causing your town any trouble," Baxter frowned. "It's just quietly staying in the woods."

"All mutants cause trouble sooner or later," Gladstone said.

Vernon swallowed hard. "So you think it's dangerous?" he quavered.

"Of course!" Gladstone's eyes blazed. "I want to see it captured as soon as possible."

Baxter's stomach dropped. Now he knew why he had felt uneasy.

April stood. "I'm here to get a story, not to be cruel to some harmless creature," she snapped. "You should know, Mr. Gladstone, that some of my best friends are mutants."

"Or former mutants." Gladstone locked eyes with Baxter. "We know all about you up here, Dr. Stockman." He pulled a well-worn sheet of paper out of his vest pocket and smoothed it on the table.

Baxter swallowed a larger piece of the chocolate bar than he had meant to. "Oh," he choked. A picture of him in his cross-fused state at the Channel 6 news desk stared back at him. The accompanying article described the fly creature who had been terrorizing New York City with his army of flies and had an addendum that the fly's identity had been revealed as Baxter Stockman.

To April's surprise, it was Vernon who reacted to that. "Now just a minute!" He got up, tapping the paper with a finger. "That's old news. What does it matter what he was?! He's not a danger to anyone now!"

Something caught Baxter's attention out of the corner of his eye and he looked over, flinching uncontrollably at the sight of a giant spider climbing up the other side of the window.

"Of course," said Gladstone, but the ominous way he said it didn't give any of them any comfort.

"I'm going out in those woods right now and I'll find your mutant!" April declared. "And I'll prove to you that it's not dangerous to this town or anyone else!" She turned, storming out of the diner.

"April, wait up!" Irma exclaimed, scrambling up to chase after her friend.

"April O'Neil has as much gumption as I've always heard," Gladstone smirked.

"She always does, especially when an injustice is involved," Baxter said. A bit of a warning spark had come into his eyes. He got up, depositing the empty candy wrapper in the nearest trashcan.

"I imagine all of you share her views on mutants," Gladstone said.

"Well, Irma and I aren't nearly as passionate about it," Vernon said.

"And you reported on what Dr. Stockman was, didn't you?" Gladstone leered.

Baxter winced at the reminder.

"That was a long time ago," Vernon frowned. "I don't feel the same about him as I did then."

"Come now, Mr. Fenwick," Gladstone purred. "Leopards don't change their spots. People don't change their minds. And mutants don't ever stop being mutants."

A chill fell over the table.

"We need to go," Baxter said coolly. "Our place is with the girls."

"Go, by all means," Gladstone said with a wave of his hand. "Just remember what I said."

Vernon shuddered once they escaped to the sidewalk. "I hope we won't have to see that . . . that person again while we're here!" he snorted.

"I'm sure we will," Baxter sighed. "It's not unusual to find mutant haters. There are probably many backwoods towns like this where they're seen as vicious beasts."

"This isn't the 14th Century!" Vernon exclaimed.

"Don't look now, Vernon, but that sounds a lot like you're defending mutants," Irma remarked from where she was leaning on the news van window with folded arms.

Vernon looked away, embarrassed. "Well, I wouldn't say that," he stammered. "I just don't think that character is being very fair to Dr. Stockman."

"His attitude sounds a lot like your and Burne's attitude about the Turtles," April countered from the driver's seat. "Come on, let's go! There's not a lot of daylight left!"

Baxter and Vernon climbed inside. "We're not going to be wandering around the forest in the dark, are we?!" Vernon whined.

"I'm not giving up until we find that mutant!" April insisted. "We'll probably need to get it away from here!"

Baxter took out his Turtle-Comm. "I'll call Michelangelo and find out where they are," he offered. "They should have been here by now."

Michelangelo answered almost immediately. "Hey, Baxter Dude!" he greeted with a smile. "What's up?"

Baxter smiled as well, allowing the cruel memories of the past few moments to fade a bit. "We're in the town now," he said. "We just spoke with Rudy Gladstone. He's . . . not a pleasant person on the subject of mutants. Whatever is in the woods might be in danger. And judging from his attitude, I'm afraid all of you might be as well."

"We'll be careful," Michelangelo said with confidence. "We decided to go on to the woods since it's gonna be dark soon. We've been going over the area where the mutant's always seen, but so far we haven't found anything yet."

"It's probably in hiding," Baxter said.

"Or maybe it had the good sense to move away," Vernon sniffed.

"We're coming out there right now," April called. "We should be there in a few minutes."

"Gnarly," Michelangelo grinned. "We'll be watching for you!"

Baxter hung up and slumped back into the seat. He couldn't shake the feeling that they were missing something, that something was terribly, terribly wrong, but he couldn't figure out what it could be. Something to do with Mr. Gladstone's attitude? Something involving the mutant?

He bit his lip. ". . . There are some mutants that really aren't very nice," he said quietly. "We should be careful."

"I know, Dr. Stockman," April said. "Of course there's good and bad mutants, just like people. But in a town like this, I'm not willing to dismiss the mutant as bad. Look how that Rudy Gladstone's acting about you!"

Baxter looked down. "In all fairness, I wasn't one of the nice mutants."

Irma laid a hand on his shoulder. "Hey, you were cracked up. And your mutation was different from anyone else's. You were actually fused with the thing! If someone had helped you sooner, you wouldn't have fallen as far as you did."

That brought a bit of a smile. "I doubt any of that would make a difference to someone like Rudy Gladstone."

"Who cares about Rudy Gladstone?" Irma retorted. "He's a creep! You don't have to prove anything to him!"

"And I don't intend to," Baxter said. "He isn't worth my time or effort." He sighed. "That is admittedly what I thought of Vernon when we first met, so I suppose there's a chance I could come to feel differently about Mr. Gladstone. . . ."

"He's probably always out to get mutants," Vernon frowned. "Why on Earth was he keeping that old article about you? It's so beat-up, he's clearly had it for a while."

Baxter shuddered. "Maybe that's what felt wrong," he said. "It is strange for him to have that. And he looked so strange when Miss O'Neil introduced me."

"I say we'd better keep an eye on him," Vernon declared.

"Fine with me!" said April.

xxxx

"Barney?"

Barney looked up from the papers he was still grading. "What is it?"

"Didn't Baxter say he was going to the town of Sinkhole?" Vincent came and sat next to him on the other couch.

"Yes," Barney grunted. "It's not supposed to be an overnight assignment, but he said it could turn into one." He paused. Vincent didn't always sound so worried. "What about it?"

"I just did some research on the town," Vincent said. "One of the town's leading citizens is a freelance reporter named Rudy Gladstone. Some of the things he's written lately have strange comments that could be construed as anti-mutant."

"Baxter isn't a mutant anymore," Barney shrugged.

"That's just it, Barney," Vincent exclaimed. "He's made several allusions that a mutant who becomes human again can't be trusted, that they probably still have animalistic instincts and are just masquerading as humans when they're creatures inside!"

"That's ridiculous," Barney scoffed. "Anyway, most mutants aren't even dangerous."

"Look at this interview clip," Vincent persisted.

Sighing, Barney set the papers aside as Vincent switched to a YouTube video. He really wanted to get this done, but as long as Vincent was worried, there would be no peace.

"Mr. Gladstone, you've made several comments about mutants," said a young reporter. "Do you really feel they're bad for society?"

Gladstone looked coldly at the camera. "Any mutant that has ever existed is an unnatural disgrace to the world. I don't care if they're supposedly rehabilitated or not. They're monsters and should be put out of our misery."

Barney slammed his hand on the stack of papers. "Send that video to Baxter," he instructed. "We're going out there."

Vincent looked at Barney in relief. He had been sure that would get him moving.

xxxx

"Maximum bummer, Dudes." Michelangelo frowned as he looked at the tightly clustered trees and rocks. "We've been all over the area and there's no mutant anywhere!"

"Maybe you spoke too soon," said Donatello. "Here's some footprints!"

They gathered around to examine what looked like giant fox or cat tracks. "Yeah, something was here, alright," Raphael mused.

"Man, I wonder if Baxter's safe for sure," Michelangelo worried. "Small towns like this don't usually like mutants."

"Big cities don't usually like mutants," Raphael said. "You're probably just feeling overprotective because of the stuff that's been happening to all of us lately."

"Yeah, maybe," Michelangelo said. "I don't know; I just have a weird feeling about all of this."

"Normally you'd be hoping that the mutant might be a new friend," Donatello said.

"I'm not feeling weird about the mutant, exactly," Michelangelo said. "I don't know; it's kind of hard to explain. It's this whole place!"

"Well, here's a piece of fur!" Leonardo tugged a small chunk of red fur off of a pine branch. "Only it feels kind of weird."

"Weird how?" Donatello asked.

Leonardo was about to respond when the news van pulled up. "Hi, guys!" April greeted. "Any luck?"

"We sure found something," Leonardo said. As the news crew got out and came around the side of the van, he pointed down at the paw prints.

Vernon moaned. "Oh no! There really is something loose! And what if it's not friendly?!"

"That's always a possibility," Raphael said lightly.

Baxter came over and bent down to examine the tracks. "I don't know," he mused. "Something seems . . . almost too pat about this."

"And I found this." Leonardo held out the piece of fur. "But it feels . . . I don't know . . . like fake fur, maybe."

Baxter took it and rubbed his fingers over it. "I'm not an animal expert, but I can confirm that this is fake," he frowned.

"So what does that mean?!" April said in dismay. "Were these things planted?"

"It looks like they could have been," Leonardo said.

"But like, why?" Michelangelo blinked.

"Publicity stunt, maybe?" Donatello suggested. "Maybe the town thought it could put itself on the map for having a mysterious mutant."

"Rudy Gladstone abhors mutants," Baxter said. "At least, that's certainly the impression he gave. He doesn't trust them and he believes they all cause trouble eventually. I can't believe he would want to make it look like the town has a mutant running loose."

Raphael made a face. "Nice guy."

"I think we should go back to town and ask him about this," April frowned. "He was the one who claimed to have pictures of the mutant."

"Only it never looked like it in the pictures," Irma added.

"I'd like to make a moulage of the footprints, just in case there's anything to it," Donatello said, kneeling down to look them over again.

Baxter hesitated. Part of him wanted to stay there and look around more and try to determine the truth. But judging from the fake hair, he doubted that there was really a mutant. And he wondered if he should really let the others go back to town without him. Clearly it wasn't safe for the Turtles to be seen in town, and maybe it wasn't much safer for him, if Gladstone's words were any indication. But Vernon was still jumpy and tense, despite his best efforts to be brave, and Baxter didn't like the thought of him and the girls wandering the town without him.

Michelangelo looked to him. "Are you gonna go with them, Amigo?" he asked.

"I should," Baxter said at last. "But you'll let us know if you actually uncover anything, won't you?"

"Of course," said Donatello. "But we probably won't. And we can't stay out here too much longer anyway; it's almost dark."

Leonardo nodded. "We don't want to get lost out here."

April took a few pictures before heading back to the news van. "We'll check in if we learn anything too," she promised.

"Gnarly notion," Michelangelo grinned.

"Stay safe," Leonardo warned. "I've got a feeling there's something really wrong with this town."

"That makes two of us," April sighed.

"Three of us," Baxter admitted.

It was only after the news crew was on the road back to town that Baxter's phone beeped. He pulled it out. ". . . Vincent's warning me to be careful," he said. "He sent me a video link. Oh." He stared as the video loaded and Rudy Gladstone's hateful comments filled the van.

"It sounds like anyone who's ever been a mutant is in danger," Irma worried.

"Maybe he really is out to get Baxter," Vernon whimpered.

Fear passed through Baxter's eyes, but he said, "Would he really? That would be assault . . . or murder."

"It doesn't sound like he'd care!" April cried. "Maybe we'd better not go back to town."

"Um, April? I don't think we're going to have much choice!" Irma stared behind them as a patrol car fell into line behind the van, practically tailgating them the rest of the way on the road.

"This is a two-lane road!" April said. "They must have been hiding in the woods, just waiting for us to come back!"

"I don't like this," Vernon moaned.

By now, Baxter definitely didn't either. "Their lights aren't flashing," he said. "There's really nothing we can do until we're back to the town."

"More's the pity," Irma muttered.

Baxter took out his Turtle-Comm. "I'd better let the Turtles know about that video," he said. "They're not safe here."

This time Leonardo answered. "Hi, Baxter," he greeted. "Any news?"

"Yes-all bad!" Baxter replied. "This Rudy Gladstone is an anti-mutant bigot. Vincent sent me a video where he basically said that all mutants should be exterminated! None of you are safe!"

"We'll worry about that," Leonardo said. "What about you, Baxter? Are you alright?"

"I don't know," Baxter said. "We've acquired a mysterious police escort, but they're not indicating we have to pull over for them. They seem to be tailing us."

"Like, maybe they're trying to protect you from the mutant or from Rudy Gladstone," Michelangelo said in the background.

"I hope so," Baxter said. "But it's more than a little suspicious that the car apparently came out of the woods to get behind us."

Leonardo frowned. "You're right; that's pretty strange. Let us know what happens. There's not much more daylight left. We'll look around a little bit more and then give up for now."

"Alright," said Baxter, but he was still worried for them.

xxxx

The last thing the news crew was expecting to see as they drove back into town was Rudy Gladstone standing and apparently waiting for them with the sheriff.

"What's going on here?" April frowned as she pulled over to the curb. She and the others got out of the van to meet their welcoming committee, which definitely didn't seem welcoming.

"Yeah!" Irma added. "We've been followed most of the way back by that squad car over there!" She pointed to where it had parked behind the van.

The sheriff gave them a cool look. "Well, it's like this. With that creature running free, we don't think it's safe for visitors to run free. My deputies and I came to offer you protection in the town jail."

"What?!" Vernon yelped.

"And what if we refuse?" Baxter frowned.

"Then we have to insist," the sheriff replied. "It's for your own safety."

"Look, Buster, I'm not going to any jail!" April snapped. "None of us broke the law! We only came out here to get a story on the mutant. Someone called us to come see about it!"

"Well, as far as breaking the law goes, we're doing a little fortune-telling and figuring that you're going to break it in the near future," the sheriff smiled.

"That doesn't even make sense!" Vernon objected.

"The sheriff here predicts that you're going to try to help a fugitive escape the law," Gladstone said, unable to conceal his sickening smirk of triumph.

"You're crazy!" Irma snapped. "What fugitive?"

"Why, Dr. Stockman, of course." Gladstone nodded to the stunned man.

"I haven't broken the law," Baxter objected.

"You broke the law when you became a miserable mutant, Doctor," Gladstone snarled. "You gave up your humanity so you could be a monster. The penalty for that is death!"

The news crew stared at him.

"This is outrageous!" It was Vernon who had spoken. "He didn't even want to be a mutant!"

"That's right," April nodded. "He was being murdered by disintegration and something went wrong. He was literally fused with a fly!"

"I never stopped wanting to be human again!" Baxter finally cried. "But regardless, there isn't any law against becoming a mutant. That's ridiculous!"

"Well, there's a law in this town that mutants aren't allowed," the sheriff drawled. "If we find any, we can do with them as we will, seeing as how they're not people or anything like that." He snapped his fingers. Two deputies alighted from the patrol car behind the news van, while townspeople began emerging from around buildings on both sides of the street.

April looked around, her heart racing. She knew what she had to do. "Run, Baxter!" she cried, shoving him forward.

Baxter stumbled but righted himself. "I can't leave you here!" he gasped.

"Get help!" April instructed. "You can't do anything here!"

Baxter swallowed hard. The murderous, inhuman looks in all the people's eyes were very clear. There was no reasoning with them. He did have to run. He tore past, desperately fleeing down the street.

The sheriff sneered. "And now we can take all of you in for just what we said." He and a deputy seized April and Irma. Undaunted, the girls struggled and kicked.

"You won't get away with this!" April fumed.

"We'll report all of you for what you're doing!" Irma added. She struck her captor on the shin. He flinched but didn't let go.

"Hey!" Vernon stared at the scene, not sure what to do or what he even could do. "Why aren't you arresting me too?"

"Well, you see, we have a little proposition for you," Gladstone smirked.

"Oh great," April moaned as she and Irma were carted into the jailhouse.

Irma looked back over her shoulder. "Vernon, whatever they offer you, don't give in!" she pleaded.

Gladstone sauntered over to one of the townspeople and took the lighted torch he was holding. "This is my proposition, Mr. Fenwick," he said calmly. "Help us track down your friend and whatever help he thinks he's going to get. Do that and we'll let you live unscathed. Otherwise . . ." He held the torch dangerously close to Vernon's face.

Vernon gasped. It was hot enough that he felt burned just from its proximity to him. He shut his eyes, not wanting a stray ember to fly into them. "No, please," he quavered. "I can't help you! I don't know where he was going. And I . . . I don't want to betray him. He's my . . . my friend. . . ."

"It's either him or your face," Gladstone said, leaning in closer. "Have you ever seen photographs of third-degree burn victims?"

"I . . . I . . ." Vernon wobbled on his legs, unable to so much as think what to say or do. He couldn't betray Baxter to these madmen. But he didn't want to die . . . or be disfigured for life. . . . His mind went blank. Only one option seemed possible. His eyes rolled back into his head and he fell backwards on the ground.

"The wimp's fainted!" one mobocrat said in disbelief.

"Nevermind him!" Gladstone said with a wave of his hand. "Just leave him there. He's obviously of no use to anyone." He looked up as more townspeople began to gather around, curious and confused about what was happening. Seeing his chance, he jumped on the hood of the news van to speak.

"There's a monster loose in this town!" he announced. "One of the members of the news crew that arrived this evening has a deep, dark secret. He used to be a mutant!"

The townspeople gasped in horror and outrage.

"Look at what he was!" Gladstone boomed, waving his old printout. "A hideous, ugly fly!"

"A fly?!" shrieked several of the townspeople.

"He looks human now, but after he was a monster for two years, can he ever really be human again?" Gladstone's eyes blazed. "He's only pretending! His true nature was revealed when I witnessed him showing fear over a spider and consuming a giant Hershey's bar! Fly traits that are still a part of him!" He held up the torch, which was blazing as dangerously as his eyes. "We don't want his kind in our fair town, do we?"

"No!" was the resounding echo.

"All mutants are unnatural monsters!" Gladstone insisted. "They must be eradicated from the borders of our town! Kill the fly!"

"Kill him!" several chorused in agreement.

"Crush him!" cried one.

"Run him through and see if he even bleeds!" yelled another.

"Follow me!" Gladstone flung his torch into a haystack and it went up in a blaze. "We'll chase him into the woods, through the town, or wherever else he tries to go to escape us! Embrace the thrill of the hunt and don't be fooled by his seeming humanity! Just remember his green and purple skin, his huge red eyes, his frantically beating wings! He was turned into a monster and that is what he will always be! And monsters are only good when they're dead!"

He sneered as the townspeople rallied to his side, lighting their own torches from the blaze in the haystack. "They believe as I do, but it doesn't hurt that I'm a natural leader. It doesn't take much for them to follow me."

April desperately rattled the bars of the jail cell window. "You're the monster!" she screamed.

He glanced back at her. "I knew you were going to be a problem," he said. "But I didn't know how to get Baxter Stockman here alone without it looking suspicious."

April rocked back. ". . . Is there really even a mutant in the woods?!" she cried.

"That was just a story I made up to get you here," Gladstone sneered. "He's become far too popular and beloved, considering what he was. He has to be destroyed like the fly he is!" He turned away. "Let's go!" He rode off on his motorcycle, the townspeople streaming after him in a twisted and sickening parade.

"Oh . . ." April slumped back in horror.

"April, what are we going to do?!" Irma wailed from where she was sitting on the cot.

April dug her Turtle-Comm out of her pocket. "Luckily, they didn't find this." She immediately opened it. "Come in, Turtles!"

"April, we're still not having any luck finding any mutant in the woods," Donatello greeted.

"There isn't one!" April wailed. "It was all a trap! Gladstone's rallied the people to kill Baxter!"

"WHAT?!" all the Turtles cried in unison.

"And they've locked Irma and me in jail," April continued. "Baxter and Vernon are still free, but the town's become an angry mob on motorcycles! They hate all mutants . . . and former mutants." She cringed. "We'll all be goners if they find out we've been mutants too."

"We're on our way," Leonardo vowed.

"And like, we'll let Barney and Vincent know too," Michelangelo exclaimed. "They won't stay away!"

"Be careful, guys," April said softly as she hung up.

Irma was digging in her purse. "Aha!" She pulled out a nail file. "This should get us out of here!"

April watched, tense and hopeful, as Irma ran to the door and fiddled with the old lock. When it gave way from the nail file, Irma triumphantly pushed the door open and April dashed out. "Great work, Irma!" she praised. "Now we have to find Dr. Stockman before that mob catches up to him!"

They got outside and ran over to Vernon, who was still sprawled lifelessly on the ground. "Vernon?!" Irma bent down and desperately shook him. "You've gotta wake up!"

"It's a wonder they didn't trample him!" April said, not really kidding.

Vernon groaned. "What happened? Did they burn my face off?"

"No, Vernon," Irma told him. "You're just fine."

"When you fainted, they just left you here on the sidewalk," April said. "We have to take the news van and find Baxter before they do!"

Irma suddenly cringed. "I don't think they'd take any chances on us being able to get away." On a hunch, she went over to the van and popped the hood. "Yup, the distributor cap is missing."

"Oh!" Vernon wailed. He covered his face with his hands. "They're going to catch up to him and kill him! Maybe if I'd been more helpful to him . . . !"

"At least you didn't give in," Irma said.

"I guess you decided fainting was the only thing you could do," April said. She reached to help him stand. "We'll just have to go on foot until the Turtles get here."

"By then it will be too late," Vernon sniffled. He accepted April's hand and staggered to his feet. "Poor Baxter doesn't have a prayer."

"Don't count him out yet, Vernon," April said. Softer she added, "But saying a few prayers in his behalf surely wouldn't hurt."

xxxx

The Technodrome wasn't that far away from the prejudiced little town. Krang grinned as he watched the chaos on the transdimensional screen. "This should make you happy, Shredder," he said. "The entire town's up in arms over Baxter! Look at him run!"

Shredder sneered behind his mask. Baxter was completely terrified. He practically flew over the road, then tripped and went down. He only barely managed to roll out of the way as Gladstone reached out and tried to set him on fire with his torch.

"This is entertaining," he said. "And of course the Turtles can't be far away. How ironic if all of them are done away with by this backwater little town!"

"Don't count any of them out yet," Krang cautioned. "But it is fun to watch." He giggled.

"Gee, I don't know," Bebop shuddered. "What's fun about watchin' a town hate mutants so much? Think what they'd try to do to Rocksteady and me."

"It's not like you'll ever have to go there," Shredder retorted. "We can watch the destruction of our enemies from the comfort of the Technodrome."

"I guess so." But Bebop still looked uncertain.

"Now if only we could find some competent help," Krang growled. "Even Pinky McFingers has failed us!"

"Well, maybe you shouldn't have tried designing a weapon based on that energy-zapper we once stole from the Planet of the Turtles," Shredder retorted.

"The weapon worked fine," Krang said defensively. "The delivery system, as always, left a lot to be desired! McFingers shouldn't have tried to double-cross us and make one of his own. If he hadn't involved Barney Stockman, everything would have come off perfectly and we'd be out of the mud by now!"

"Those wretched Stockman brothers!" Shredder boomed. "It always comes back to them lately!"

"Aww, and now Baxter's gone and hid someplace," Rocksteady whined. "I wanted to keep watching!"

"He can't stay hidden forever!" Krang chanted in a singsong voice. "And maybe I can find him." He adjusted a few dials and switched the camera to inside a nearby building. "Hmm. Not this one. Or . . . wait." He pointed at a gleam in the near-darkness. "That's the reflection off a pair of glasses."

"So he's hiding under that desk, the little weasel," Shredder sneered. "It's a pity something like this didn't happen while he was still a mutant, but it's still delicious to watch now. Maybe even moreso now that he's become such an extreme thorn in our side."

"I thought he was always a pain, even when he was a mutant," Bebop said.

"Oh, he was," Shredder agreed. "Or even when he was a weak, submissive human. He was so much easier to manipulate in that state of mind. Or when he didn't have his mind. Now he has his mind and he's an ally of those blasted Turtles! And he's far more aggravating than before!" He shook his fists to the ceiling.

"He is a little pest," Krang admitted, "but I think you're more upset at being defeated by a weak little man than you are about our plans being overthrown!" He rolled his eyes. "You're always going on and on about your 'ninja honor' being disgraced. Well, I'm sick of it! Here's a newsflash for you: neither of us are honorable!"

Shredder was about to snap back when Rocksteady pointed at the screen. "Wait! The crazy townspeople are getting off their motorcycles and going to look through all the buildings. They're gonna find Baxter soon."

"Oh, excellent!" Shredder sneered. "I hope we'll have a front-row seat for his execution."

xxxx

Baxter trembled as he listened to the mob calling to each other.

"He's not in the general store," said one.

"Or the bank," said another.

"He can't have gone far!" Gladstone boomed. "We'll keep looking."

Baxter slumped against the desk in despair. "They're so full of hate," he said softly. "And it's not as though they're out for revenge. That, at least, I could understand all too well. And it doesn't even seem like they're worried for their safety. They simply hate what's different from them." He slipped out from under the desk and crept along the floor. "I have to get out of here before I'm caught. Oh, I wonder how Miss O'Neil and the others are doing. . . ."

Suddenly he froze in new horror. April, Irma, and Vernon had all been temporary mutants more than once. It surely wouldn't take long and this hateful town would learn all about that. Then they would be in just as much danger.

He fumbled and pulled out his Turtle-Comm. April had told him to get help, and he had fully intended to, but he hadn't been able to use the Comm while running, and after he had taken refuge in here he had been too shaken. It had only been about five minutes, but maybe even that was critical in a situation like this.

"Come in, Turtles," he whispered.

"Baxter, are you okay?!" Michelangelo gasped. "April called and let us know that the whole town's gone gonzo!"

"I'm alright for now," Baxter said softly, "but they're against anyone who has ever been a mutant. That means that April, Irma, and Vernon are also in danger!"

"Oh wow." Michelangelo slumped back. "Maximum bummer."

"And all of you will most certainly be in danger," Baxter continued.

"We're in danger all the time," Michelangelo said. "Don't worry about us, Bud! We're almost to the town now. And Barney called and let us know that he and Vincent are coming. He said they'd call the State Police too."

"Good," Baxter said in relief. "We'll certainly need the police. But . . . oh no! I'm sure the town won't accept a living computer any more than they accept mutants!"

"Ho boy. Yeah, you're probably right. And I'm sure they know the danger. They won't stay away any more than we will," Michelangelo told him.

"I know," Baxter said softly. "Thank you, Michelangelo. I'd better get out of here before they break in."

"No duh!" Michelangelo exclaimed in concern.

Baxter hung up and swiftly made his way to the back door. He had hoped that he would have a chance to get away unnoticed, but that hope was soon shattered as a gunshot went off overhead. Terrified, he ran into another alley.

xxxx

April, Irma, and Vernon had heard the shot as well. "They must have found Baxter and they're shooting at him!" April said in horror. She hauled her video camera out of the news van.

"What are we going to do?!" Vernon wailed.

"We're going to do something that will put this entire town behind bars," April determined. "We're going to broadcast live about what's happening here!"

Irma's eyes widened. "Can we do that?!"

"They're all occupied trying to get Baxter," April said. "They won't be paying attention to us. And I don't want to see any of them get off on some stupid technicalities. This will prove our story without a doubt!" She started off down the street. "And when we catch up to them, we have to do something to get Baxter away from them!"

"I don't know what," Vernon moaned.

"We'll think of something," April insisted. She handed the camera to him. "You film while I talk."

Vernon was too worried about Baxter to protest.

"This is April O'Neil, bringing you exclusive live footage from the town of Sinkhole, New York," April intoned as she ran down the sidewalk. "We came here earlier today because of reports of a mysterious mutant living in the woods outside the town. Instead, we uncovered something vastly more disturbing."

Another gunshot rang out through the night.

"I didn't get him," a townsperson growled. "He just darted back into the street."

Indeed, Baxter had just appeared up ahead. Frantic, he tore across the street as two men bearing torches gave chase.

"This is not a play or reenactment," April said. "The entire town is out to get Dr. Baxter Stockman because he was once a mutant. We need immediate help before he is killed by their hateful and prejudicial behavior!"

Irma bit her lip. "He ran into town hall," she said. "It looks like it's the biggest building around here."

"They'll surround the building and trap him in there!" Vernon cried.

"Then we have to make sure they can't!" April took the camera from him. "You and Irma try to get in through the back. I'll distract them!"

"But April . . . !" Irma stared at her friend in horror.

"I'll be fine," April assured her, even though she really wasn't sure of that at all.

Vernon also looked worried, although April wasn't sure if that was because of her or because of himself. But he didn't protest, instead slipping into an alley with Irma.

April took a deep breath and started across the street. "Excuse me," she called to the nearest mobocrats. "Would you like to say a few words to our viewing audience about what's happening here?"

"Why, sure," the first one sneered. "We're just out to kill us a mutant."

"You idiot!" snarled the second. "She's not supposed to be out of jail or filming!"

"Who cares?" the first shot back. "Mr. Gladstone wanted us to be known for what we're doing, didn't he? He said this was only going to be the first of many attacks on the mutant monsters."

It was all April could do not to start screaming in outrage at him. Somehow she managed to respond in a halfway even voice, "But Baxter Stockman isn't even a mutant anymore."

"We don't care," the first replied.

The second tried to drag him away. "We're not supposed to be giving an interview right now!"

April nearly shouted for joy when the Turtle Van pulled up just then. "Maybe not, but we'll be happy to let you film us kicking some serious shell, April," Michelangelo cried as he leaped out, swinging both nunchucks above his head. "The Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles to the rescue!"

"And may we emphasize mutant," Raphael smiled.

"You may," April beamed.

The townspeople shouted in sickened disgust and horror. "It's those Turtles!" Forgetting about Baxter, many of them charged the Turtles, who responded by fighting back.

April stepped back to capture the battle. "This is fantastic footage!" she exclaimed. "Yes, the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles have arrived to save Dr. Baxter Stockman. And here come his brothers as well!" She looked to an arriving cream Cadillac.

"Where is he?" Barney demanded as he leaped out.

"Inside town hall," April said. "Vernon and Irma are trying to get in there and help him now. And . . . oh no, I think Rudy Gladstone just slipped inside! I can't believe he's still going after Baxter instead of staying to fight the Turtles!"

Vincent's eyes flamed. "He's going to regret that." He tore across the street, blasting a member of the mob out of his way with electricity as he went.

April looked worriedly to Barney. "You'd better be extremely careful," she warned. "You could be easily mistaken for Baxter in a place like this!"

"That wouldn't surprise me," Barney agreed. "With their attitudes, I'm surprised they can see anything at all."

April had to smirk a bit.

"Are you going to keep filming out here?" Barney asked as he started across the street to join Vincent.

April hesitated, looking from the fight to town hall. "I'm supposed to be doing this story to get the word out on how bigoted this town is," she said, "and Baxter's still in danger! I'll come with you."

"Fine." Barney ran across the street, leaping over a downed and dazed townsperson in his way.

Amused, April followed with the camera.

xxxx

Burne Thompson was often a man of quickly switching moods. When April had first interrupted their broadcast of Bowling For Bucks to do her unscheduled report, he had been furious. But as soon as he had started to watch her report, his attitude had completely changed. "Oh, this is good, good, good," he exclaimed. "April's really uncovered a hornet's nest this time!"

"But what about poor Dr. Stockman?" Mildred worried. "He's in terrible danger!"

"It looks like he's got a lot of people . . . er, mutants . . . er, beings in his corner," Burne said when he caught a glimpse of Vincent. "I'm sure he'll be fine."

"Well, I'm not!" Mildred retorted. "That creepy reporter guy went in the building after him!"

Burne shook his head. "I can't believe he'd rather go after Dr. Stockman than those Turtles. He's worried about mutants and there's four right there!"

"Maybe he hates people who were mutants more than he even hates mutants who have always been animals," Mildred gulped.

"Yeah," Burne mused. "He probably does at that." He looked to her. "Are the calls starting to come in?"

"Oh, there's so many calls, we can't keep up with them," Mildred told him. "Some of them are upset about Bowling For Bucks getting cut into, but most of them are outraged about what's happening in that creepy town."

Burne's eyes gleamed. "We are gonna have the best ratings of the night!"

"I just hope Dr. Stockman survives the night," Mildred moaned.

xxxx

It wasn't unusual for Channel 6 to be the news station of choice in the household of Baxter and Barney's parents. Despite Mrs. Stockman avoiding her sons, she still usually watched Baxter's segments on the news. Mr. Stockman always did, albeit from the privacy of his home office most nights. But he wasn't particularly interested in Bowling For Bucks and wasn't watching when he heard his wife give a strangled cry of horror from the living room. That was highly unusual. He leaped up and ran out. "What on Earth is going on?!" he demanded.

He wasn't expecting to see his wife kneeling on the floor, hysterically pointing at the television set. "They're all trying to murder our son!" she sobbed.

"What?!" He stared at the screen. Indeed, there was Baxter, fleeing across the street as someone shot at him. "What do they think he did?!"

"They're shooting at him because he was a horrible, filthy mutant," she wailed.

That froze him in his tracks. He had long blamed Baxter for that disaster, but ever since his feelings had started to soften he had recognized that Baxter had certainly never wanted such a thing to happen to him and he had suffered tremendously because of it.

"Oh, there go those horrid Turtles and that wretched computer!" Mrs. Stockman sniffed.

Mr. Stockman narrowed his eyes at the screen. "They're all trying to help Baxter," he said. "Give them some credit."

"That computer especially is an insult to us," Mrs. Stockman fumed. "Baxter had it with him at Barney's funeral. Imagine! He brought it right under my nose and I didn't realize!" She stared up at her husband. "Can't you see how unbelievably insulting it is for Baxter and Barney to proclaim that thing their brother?! As if we would ever accept that as our son!"

Mr. Stockman frowned deeper. "They don't expect that," he said. "They couldn't care less whether we approve or not. And should they? We never gave a darn about them."

"That most certainly isn't true!" Mrs. Stockman got to her feet. "We always cared about them having the best of everything!"

"For our sakes, not theirs," he countered. "And you were so upset about Baxter just a minute ago. Now all you can think of is that computer. Don't you see something wrong with that picture? Our son's life is still in danger!" His voice rose and gained an edge. "Who cares if he calls a computer his brother?!"

"I care!" Mrs. Stockman wailed.

"I know. And that's the whole problem! I care about our son! . . . Both our sons," he added as Barney tore past the screen. "No, I don't know that I could ever accept a computer as a third son, but that's not important! What's important is that it doesn't hurt anything and it makes them happy to think of the computer as a brother. And that the computer seems to genuinely care about them."

"Computers can't care about anything!" Mrs. Stockman said in horror. "You're starting to act as strange as our sons!"

"I'm looking at the facts," Mr. Stockman replied, "and I see our son is in danger and that computer isn't hesitating to rush and help him, which is more than you and I ever did. But I'm going to help him now. I'll make sure that the police get in there too." He grabbed the phone and started to dial, never taking his eyes off the screen. Silently he prayed for Baxter and Barney's safety. And if a computer was God's instrument in helping them keep it, he could never be grateful enough to it . . . him.

xxxx

Baxter was panic-stricken as he ran into town hall. Some of the townspeople were still pursuing him, even in spite of the Turtles showing up to fight. His heart pounding, he dove through the stairwell door and kept running, feeling his way around in the near-darkness.

He really didn't mean to run onto the roof. He wouldn't have, had several people not entered the stairwell on the second floor when he had just passed the third. With nowhere else to run, he had no choice but to run onto the roof. He looked around, desperate, seeking a hiding place.

"Kill the fly!" roared a hateful chorus from the closed stairwell door.

Baxter fled towards the opposite side of the roof. There wasn't any place to hide; all he could do was put as much distance between him and them as possible and pray for a miracle.

The door burst open and Rudy Gladstone appeared, flanked by two of the townspeople. "Now I have you," he snarled, lifting his clenched fist in the air. A cruel knife gleamed in the moonlight.

Baxter backed up. His courage always seemed to fail him when he was facing personal danger like this, unless he was trying to save a loved one. "Please," he gasped. "There's no reason for this!"

"There's every reason, you filthy mutant!" Gladstone brought the knife down, only barely missing Baxter as he skittered out of the way.

"I never did anything to you!" Baxter cried.

"You exist," Gladstone hissed. "Every mutant that exists is doing something to me by breathing the same air."

Now the henchmen were closing in from other angles, trying to herd Baxter back to Gladstone. Baxter stumbled and fell, crying out in pain as he slammed onto the roof.

Without warning the door flew open again and the familiar sound of an electric blast filled Baxter's ears. He leaped up, staring in stunned amazement and relief as Vincent sent the two men flying backwards. "Vincent!"

Gladstone spun around. The sight of a computer with a body seemed to unhinge him the rest of the way. "When is this world ever going to stop filling up with repugnant, unnatural creatures?!" he roared, swinging the knife in a mad arc.

Vincent blasted his wrist, sending the weapon flying away from him. "You're the most unnatural creature I see here," he retorted.

Barney and April ran onto the roof as Baxter scrambled away from his nemesis. "Are you alright?!" Barney demanded.

"Yes," Baxter said with a shaky nod.

"I wonder where Irma and Vernon are," April said in concern. "I sent them in after you!"

Baxter's eyes filled with new fear for his friends. But he had no chance to think about that before Vincent was grabbing him and shoving him towards Barney. "Let's get down from here," he exclaimed. But then he stiffened, his eyes widening in shock and pain.

Both Baxter and Barney stared at him. "Vincent?!"

Gladstone sneered at them from behind Vincent. A second knife was buried in the computer's back up to the handle. "I got this one," he hissed.

April cried out in alarm. Her hands shaking, she continued filming.

Vincent fell to his knees with a gasp.

Barney snapped. In one swift motion he had pulled the first knife out of the door where it was embedded and was charging the wicked man.

At the moment, Baxter wasn't consciously aware of what Barney was doing. He fell down beside Vincent, horror sweeping over him. "Vincent?! Vincent, what can I do?! Please tell me what to do!" He shook, reaching for the knife then drawing his hand back. One wasn't supposed to remove the knife in organic beings, but what sort of ruling applied here?! And how badly was Vincent hurt? He was clearly in pain. Finally Baxter laid a hand on Vincent's shoulder and the other under the laptop and tried to draw him close.

Vincent groaned. "It's . . . alright, Baxter. . . ." He started to reach behind himself.

"Alright?! How can it be alright?!" Baxter wailed.

Vincent pulled the knife out. Baxter caught a glimpse of what looked like something blue coating the blade, but then it dripped off and disappeared. What happened next stunned Baxter into forgetting about that. Vincent concentrated, pooling his will into mending the torn energy flesh. To Baxter's amazement and joy, it knitted back together and Vincent stood, completely well. "Barney, stop!" he cried.

Baxter and April both came to attention in bewilderment. Baxter went sheet-white. Barney was more than ready to plunge the other knife into Gladstone, but he stopped and turned at Vincent's voice. His eyes widened.

Gladstone could have taken that moment to try to catch Barney off-guard, but he was too stunned by the sight of Vincent standing and holding the knife. "You . . . you healed yourself!" he shouted.

Vincent gave him a cold look. "You'd do well not to go around stabbing beings unless you absolutely know what will happen," he said. "And the only reason I stopped Barney from stabbing you is because I didn't want him to get arrested for it. You would have deserved it." He sneered. "Computers don't have fingerprints, so yours should still be fresh on this knife."

"And if you have any thoughts of trying to get away, well, don't," said Raphael from the doorway. He and the other Turtles had arrived, along with Irma, Vernon, and two State Police officers.

Gladstone's shoulders slumped. He was finally conceding defeat.

April beamed. "And I have it all live on the air. This town can't claim innocence. The whole nation's seen its hate!"

Baxter ran over to Barney as the police handcuffed Gladstone and his cronies and led them back into the building. "Barney, I didn't even realize what you were doing," he said in chagrin. "I saw Vincent stabbed and that's all I could think about."

"And all I could think about when Vincent fell in Nightmare Land was my own anguish," Barney said. "I wasn't thinking about you until your words finally got through to me. So we're even."

Baxter shook his head. "If you had really stabbed that man . . ."

Barney's eyes darkened. "Sometimes I share Vincent's regret that revenge isn't acceptable on Earth under any circumstances," he said. "When it comes to someone like that . . . it seems like there should be exceptions."

"I know," Baxter said quietly. "Only . . . then where would it ever end? People would make their own judgments about who qualified as 'someone like that' and there would be mass chaos. And all three of us might be among the dead."

Barney shivered. "You make sense," he grunted. "But sometimes I don't want to hear sense. Sometimes I just want to be angry for a while." He looked to Vincent, who was coming over after giving the knife to one of the police officers. "Are you really alright?!"

"Yes," Vincent assured him. "I can heal myself when I'm wounded. I just need to be able to concentrate long enough to do it. And . . ." He sighed. "I'm usually weakened after I do it. . . ."

Baxter laid a hand on his shoulder. "Then we'll go home so you can rest," he promised. He looked from Vincent to Barney to everyone else. "Thank you . . . all of you, for coming to help me. I'd be dead without what every one of you did."

"Like, we're all just happy we got to you in time, Bud!" Michelangelo declared. "But hey, what's gonna happen with that Gladstone creep? Is he really gonna get charged for going after Vincent?"

"I don't know," Vincent admitted. "The police weren't sure how to handle that either. 'Man Charged with Aggravated Assault on Living Computer'? I don't think it'll wash."

"He should be charged," Baxter said angrily.

"He'll definitely be charged for inciting the town to riot and attempted murder on you," April said. "Everyone who participated in the mob is being arrested and taken in." She sighed. "I just hope my footage will keep them from just getting out again."

"I'm sure it will be a tremendous help," Baxter smiled.

"I wish I'd been more help," Vernon said regretfully. "Irma and I couldn't even find you when we went into town hall."

"But we did take out a few of those bozos, so it wasn't a complete loss," Irma smirked.

Both Baxter and April looked surprised. "This we've got to hear," April declared.

"I'll tell it on the way down," Irma said.

xxxx

Shredder was still staring at the transdimensional scene as everyone trouped out of town hall and April began to wrap up her report.

Krang frowned. "I never like it when you get that look in your eyes," he said. "What are you thinking, Shredder?"

"Did you see that?" Shredder sneered. "That computer was brutally stabbed, yet it healed itself."

"Who cares?!" Krang snapped. "That just means we'd better not underestimate it in battle!"

"I wonder how successfully it could heal itself if it had many injuries to think about at once." Shredder's eyes glinted.

"Oh no." Krang clomped forward and stood over Shredder. "You've caused enough of our plans to fail as it is because of your pathetic vengeance against the Turtles and Hamato Yoshi! Now they've also been failing because of this new vengeance against the Stockman brothers, including that computer they call one of them. If you don't start focusing on our plans soon, I'm going to be forced to take action against you!"

"And then who would you get to help you?" Shredder mocked. "You know you need me."

"I wonder," Krang gurgled.

xxxx

It was quite a procession back to New York City: the news van, the Turtle Van, and Barney's Cadillac. Baxter had opted to ride back with his brothers, but everyone had mutually decided they might as well travel together since they were going to the same place.

Conversation would flare for a while then go silent again in all vehicles. Everyone was shaken by what they had witnessed in what they had thought was a quiet, harmless town, but no one knew quite what to say about it. It was going to take a while for many, if not all, of them to deal with their feelings.

The last thing any of the groups expected to find when they pulled up at Channel 6 for April to talk to Burne was an older, somber man waiting in the shadows of the entrance. When he stepped into the light, Baxter gasped and Barney just stared.

"That's . . . your father, isn't it?" Vincent broke the silence.

Instead of answering, Baxter fumbled with the car door and pushed it open. "Father?! What on Earth?!"

Barney got out looking wary but not entirely unreceptive. He remembered what the Merriweather children had said about their father's surprisingly forgiving and accepting attitude towards them. He still hadn't figured out what to do about it. Now it looked like he would have to decide.

Mr. Stockman shifted, looking nervously from one son to the other. "I . . . I don't know how to say this," he said. "I haven't known for a long time. When both of you fell into dark paths, I was furious and I couldn't forgive either of you. Then I thought I'd lost you for good . . . you when you became a mutant, Baxter, and you when the Dansing Building came down, Barney."

"You never even tried to see us," Barney said darkly.

"I know. At first I didn't want to. Then I didn't know how to. I knew then and I still know now that what I did to both of you was unforgivable." Mr. Stockman looked away. "Your mother and I drove you to look for happiness anywhere, everywhere else. Even with a computer you claimed as your family."

Vincent slowly got out of the car, also looking wary. "I love your sons," he said.

Mr. Stockman looked to him, supremely awkward now. From his eyes, he clearly wasn't sure how to react. Yet he also showed that he wasn't completely close-minded either. "You . . . you saved Baxter's life," he said. "And probably Barney's. I can never properly express my gratitude."

Baxter slowly smiled. "Father, meet Vincent," he said.

Again Mr. Stockman hesitated. But then, determining what to do, he held out a hand. "Hello, Vincent."

Surprised, Vincent carefully took and shook the man's hand. "Hello. . . ."

Barney stepped forward. "He is our brother, no matter what you or anyone else has to say about it."

Mr. Stockman looked to him. "And I will respect that. Of course something like this could never be easy to get used to, but . . ." He drew a heavy breath. "If you're going to adopt anyone as your brother, it should be someone loyal and kind. I'd say . . . Vincent fits that bill."

"Then . . . you won't stand in our way?" Baxter asked.

Mr. Stockman shook his head. "I've done more than enough of that already. I know I can never be forgiven, and I doubt I can ever be trusted, but I . . . wanted to reach out to you at least once. I could have lost you again tonight. Your mother still isn't ready to see you, but this was the last straw for me. I had to let you know that I've forgiven both of you . . . and that I love you both. Even though I never knew how to show it."

Baxter smiled. "Thank you, Father. This means a great deal."

Barney still looked wary, but having seen the man's willingness to be open-minded about Vincent had helped a lot. Still, he said, "I'll need time."

"I wouldn't expect anything else." Mr. Stockman stepped back. "I just wanted you to know where I stand. If you ever need my help, I'll do my best to give it."

Barney just nodded, but Baxter said, "We'll remember that."

"I'm proud of you both for how you've been putting your lives back together," Mr. Stockman said as he moved to his limousine. "Whatever your mother says, you've brought honor to the family name."

Both Baxter and Barney were stunned by that. Not insisting on a reply, their father instead climbed into the limousine and drove away.

"Totally gnarly!" Michelangelo exclaimed from the Turtle Van. "Maybe this time it really will work!"

"That's what you thought when their mother reached out to Baxter, and look how that turned out," Raphael retorted.

"I know, but this is way better!" Michelangelo insisted. "You remember how she was disgusted with all of us being there. Look how the dad really made an effort with Vincent! I'm sure that this time the parent really is sincere."

"Strangely, I think you're right, Michelangelo," Leonardo mused. "It took a lot for him to come out here, and probably even more for him to reach out to a computer. He wanted to do it for his sons' sakes."

"I wonder if their mom will ever shape up too," Michelangelo said.

"Honestly, I doubt it," Donatello frowned. "She never came to see Barney after he came back alive. And what happened to Baxter tonight didn't make her want to see him. At least not enough to do it."

"I'll never get how any parent could treat their offspring like that," Michelangelo said. He climbed out of the Van and went over to the Stockmans. "So what'd you think of that?!" he exclaimed.

Baxter shook his head. "I'm . . . stunned. Amazed. Moved. I did wonder if he would come to us after what the Merriweather children said, but I didn't really picture it being like this."

"He was . . . actually kind to Vincent," Barney mused.

"That helps, doesn't it?" Michelangelo chirped.

"It does," Barney said. "I don't know that I could ever trust him, but I will try to think about forgiveness. Somehow." He frowned. "I was forgiven by Baxter. I should be able to forgive our father."

Vincent laid a hand on his shoulder. "These things take time, especially if the person isn't able to forgive easily like Michelangelo. There's no shame in that."

"Maybe not, but when I've been forgiven, I feel like a heel not to be able to forgive in turn," Barney growled.

"It took time with Raphael," Baxter said softly. "Even I didn't know if I'd forgiven you for a while. It's alright if you have to think about it for a long time."

"And if I never do find forgiveness in my heart?" Barney countered.

"I believe you will," Baxter said. "Even if it's just by separating the man of the past and the man of the present and forgiving the man of the present."

Barney walked away several steps, staring out into the night. "That works when someone has changed," he said. "But I also need to find it in my heart to forgive our mother somehow, and she likely will never change."

"Never say never," Michelangelo said, but he trailed off in surprise as Leonardo quietly shook his head.

"Some people never do," he agreed. "And you're right, Barney; they need to be forgiven as well so that the negative feelings won't taint your soul. But I believe you're strong enough to do it."

Barney grunted. "Then you have more faith in me than I do."

"Have you accepted that your mother treated you terribly and there wasn't anything you could have done about it?" Vincent asked.

"It still makes me angry how both of them treated us," Barney said flatly. "I think the best I can say is that I've gotten to a bitter resignation. And that's only been in the last few months. I had a burning hatred towards them for years."

"Then you are making progress," Vincent encouraged.

"Thanks to you and Baxter," Barney said.

Michelangelo looked to Baxter. "Are you really okay, Baxter? I mean, after all that mondo uncool hatred and being chased all over the town. . . ."

"I imagine I'll be in for a few bad dreams," Baxter wryly admitted. "I feel alright at the moment, but I'm probably really still shaking inside."

"You should probably come back with us tonight," Barney said gruffly.

Baxter smiled, touched, but said, "I dealt with the aftermath of problems on my own for years. It's alright."

"The thing is, you never should have had to," Barney retorted. "I should have always been there for you. Now I want to be . . . unless you'd rather be alone."

". . . I'd rather be with you and Vincent," Baxter admitted.

Barney nodded. "Then let's go." He looked back to the Turtles. "We'll see you tomorrow, most likely."

"Totally!" Michelangelo grinned.

"Goodbye," Baxter said to him and the others.

Goodbyes were exchanged all around before the Stockmans climbed into the Cadillac and drove off.

Michelangelo happily watched. "There goes a good family," he proclaimed.

"And we're another one," Leonardo said.

"And we're all a family together, too," Michelangelo said. "How about we go home and have a nice butterscotch and pickle pizza before bed?"

"That'll probably give us nightmares too, but what the heck," Raphael quipped.

Donatello seemed a little quiet. "I wonder if towns like Sinkhole will always exist," he remarked.

"Probably," Raphael shrugged.

"The good news is that for every Sinkhole, there's plenty of people who completely disagree with them," Leonardo said. "April said the switchboard at Channel 6 would not stop ringing with people all over the country outraged at what was happening to Baxter."

"That really makes you feel good, doesn't it," Raphael mused.

"It sure does, Compadres," Michelangelo drawled. "I'd say there's hope yet."