Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles 1987
Notes: The characters are not mine and the story is! This was inspired by, of all things, a slightly tweaked version of the song Evermore from the recent Beauty and the Beast film. (It makes sense in context.) ThickerThanLove helped with various plot twists. 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.
"There." Barney sighed as the desktop computer flashed a message at him and Vincent that the file copying was done. He undid the ends of the cables running into the desktop computer.
Vincent pulled out the ends that were in the laptop. "I'm glad you agreed to let us try this, Barney," he said. "I really think it's a good thing to have a back-up of my systems and my memories."
"I still say it won't be you." Barney clicked through the file list on the desktop computer's screen. "What happens if I try opening one of these?"
Vincent shrugged. "Let's find out."
Barney scrolled through the list. "Can you identify what all of these are from the filenames?"
"Of course," Vincent said. "I named them all."
Baxter wandered to the doorway. "What's going on?" he asked curiously.
"We finished making the back-up of Vincent's systems and memories," Barney said. "We were going to see what happens if we click one."
Baxter came over to look as Vincent selected one. The computer's media player booted up and loaded a video file.
"Hello, Z," said an alien male as he bent forward into the screen. "We're just about to launch our maiden voyage. How do you feel?"
"Curious," Vincent replied in the video. "Excited. I've never seen outer space before."
"Well, we're all going to see a lot of it now." The alien straightened and walked away. The clip ended.
Baxter looked to Vincent. "That's fascinating," he said in amazement. "But how are we hearing it in English?"
"I translated," Vincent said. "My memories wouldn't do either of you any good if they were in my native tongue. But I kept them calling me Z because that was how my name was pronounced in their language. I don't think of myself as that anymore, but I was Z then."
"You also don't think of it as your language anymore," Barney observed.
"No, I don't," Vincent agreed. "They wanted nothing to do with me; why should I want anything to do with them or their language? It's of little use to me now unless another spaceship comes here and I need to translate the hieroglyphs for you."
Baxter laid a hand on Vincent's shoulder. He could certainly understand Vincent's rejection of his culture after being so deeply hurt. He was sure Barney did as well.
"What are these?" Barney pointed to a row of audio files.
Vincent cringed. "I don't think you want to click those."
Baxter flinched. "Only audio. . . . Oh. Are they memories of when I was a fly creature, after you were hurt at Channel 6?"
"Yes," Vincent confirmed.
"We could play every single moment you had with Baxter?" Barney said, stunned. "And me?"
"Naturally. I didn't withhold anything." Vincent folded his arms on the edge of the table.
"These are priceless treasures," Baxter said softly. "But . . . doesn't this back-up talk and interact with people, as you do?"
"Yes and no," Vincent said. "As you said, Barney, it's not exactly like me. It is, but it isn't. I thought it would be too strange and confusing if the back-up was always 'on,' like me, so I modified that function for it."
Barney grunted. "We've got the real thing here. We don't need to examine that."
"I should tell you how to activate it, though," Vincent said. He scrolled through the list and pointed to an .EXE file. "This one."
Barney nodded. "We'll remember." He moved to shut down the computer. "Right now we'd better get going. We all have places we need to be."
Baxter watched as Barney got into the hard drive and removed the motherboard, which he placed amid soft padding in a strongbox. He closed and locked it before carrying it to a locker at the far corner of his laboratory and setting it on the top shelf.
"You're taking a lot of precautions," Baxter remarked as Barney shut the locker and locked it.
"It's only to be used in case of emergency," Barney said. "I don't want it left out in the open."
Baxter nodded. "Well, I should be getting to work." He smiled at his brothers. "I'll see you both later."
"Goodbye," Barney said.
"Goodbye, Baxter," Vincent chirped.
Baxter took out his car keys as he headed out of the room. This time he had brought his car with him, having come over for breakfast before work. It had gone well, and he hoped for more occasions like that in the future. Any time spent with Barney and Vincent was happy for him.
"We need to get going too," Barney said.
He had just stepped into the hall when the telephone rang. Frowning, he went over and picked it up. Before he could so much as say Hello, a gruff and unfamiliar voice spoke to him.
"That's right," Barney frowned. "Who is this?"
"Nevermind," said the voice. "Two of your students are being held hostage in your classroom at the university. If you want to free them, you'll have to come alone. No computer brother, no police. Just you."
Barney went stiff. "What is the meaning of this?!" he snapped. Next to him, he sensed Vincent's bewilderment and anger as the computer overheard the other side of the conversation.
"Don't ask questions. Just come. Now." The phone went dead.
"Barney, what's going on?!" Vincent exclaimed.
"I have no idea." Barney stormed into the living room and grabbed the car keys off the rack. "I'll have to do as they say. But I want you to call a cab and follow me. I don't trust anyone who tells me to go somewhere alone."
"Barney . . ." Vincent trailed after him. "The last time someone told you to go somewhere alone, it was when Pinky McFingers abducted Michelangelo to try to force you to work for him. Could it be something like that again?"
Barney paused. "That's possible," he said, "but I don't know why they'd go straight to the abducting without talking to me first." He opened the door. "I'll see you in a few minutes."
Vincent sighed. "Alright. Be careful, Buddy."
Barney stepped onto the porch and looked back to him. "I will be," he said. "Do you have money for the cab?"
Vincent pulled some bills out of his pocket. "Right here."
"Good." Barney hurried down the stairs and over to the Cadillac.
Vincent didn't stay to watch Barney drive off. He hurried back into the house to phone a cab.
Barney drove as fast as he could without breaking the speed limit. The last thing he needed was to get pulled over. With his luck, someone was probably watching his every move. They might suspect him of speeding on purpose just so he could talk to a police officer.
He arrived at the university and pulled into the space reserved for him. But when he hurried inside to his classroom, he only found several bewildered students sitting at their desks.
"Hey, Professor," Andrew blinked. "Where's Vincent?"
Barney stopped and stared at the kids. "You're all alright?" he demanded. "No one is holding you hostage?!"
The students exchanged baffled looks. "No, Dr. Stockman," Diane said then. "Why?"
Barney turned away, half-in and half-out of the doorway. "Something isn't right," he said, mostly to himself.
Suddenly he bolted for the lobby. If this had all been a ploy, then the only other possibility was that someone had wanted to separate him and Vincent. It had to be Vincent who was in danger, not his students. He had to get to a computer and send a message to warn him.
Vincent had deemed it fortunate that a cab had been in the neighborhood and arrived within five minutes. He was prepared for the cabbie to be stunned and weirded out by a living computer wanting a lift, but the man showed no indication that he was particularly rattled by the appearance of his passenger. Instead he just gestured behind him at the backseat. "Get in."
Vincent hauled the door open and climbed in, giving the cabbie the address as he did. Since the driver didn't appear surprised by him at all, Vincent in turn didn't offer anything about himself. He was a sociable being, but not when Barney was in trouble and needed his help.
It didn't long to realize that the cabbie wasn't going to the university. Instead, he was taking a route leading out of town and towards the mountains.
"What are you doing?" Vincent demanded.
"We're takin' a little detour," was the bored reply.
"This isn't a 'little detour,'" Vincent snapped. "At this rate, we'll only end up at the university long after nightfall!" He held up a hand, visible in the rear-view mirror, and let electricity crackle in it for a moment. "You had better do as you're supposed to if you know what's good for you."
"Relax. It's not like you can really shock me," the cabbie countered. "Then who'd steer this thing?"
"Oh, that's no problem." Vincent pressed a few buttons on the laptop and suddenly the steering wheel was turning without the driver's permission. "I can literally be a backseat driver. I'm taking us back to the city."
The cabbie yelped. "They didn't warn me about this!" he cried. His hands flew off the wheel and he watched, aghast, as the cab started to make a U-Turn right there on the currently empty road.
"Who's 'they'?" Vincent demanded.
"Big Louie," the cabbie gulped.
"Oh?" Vincent let the cab gather speed, just enough to make the driver nervous. "Why?"
"He wanted to know what made you tick!" The driver covered his eyes with his hands. "What the heck, you're gonna get us both killed!"
"I'm a very skilled driver," Vincent replied.
Neither of them were expecting a second car to come up the road, with the passenger leaning out to fire at the cab.
"It's Big Louie's men!" the cabbie wailed. "Now what are you gonna do?!"
"They won't risk hitting me, but they might try to run us off the road," Vincent told him. Again he turned the car around and sped towards the mountains. "Where were you going to take me?"
"To a cabin way back in there," the cabbie told him.
"Well, I have no intention of going." Vincent steered the car up the mountain road and around a curve. Before the second car could catch up, he turned off the road to travel through the woods.
"Are you nuts or something?!" the cabbie wailed.
"I'm nuts about my freedom," Vincent said smoothly.
The cab bounced along through the grass and dirt, rolling over pine cones and small rocks. For the moment they seemed to be safe; the crooks hadn't realized they had turned off the road. But as they traveled farther and deeper into the woods, the cabbie suddenly got back his spark.
"Hey, I'm liable for any damage to this thing!" he yelled, grabbing hold of the steering wheel.
Vincent clenched his teeth. Now it was a tug-of-war between them. "Someone willing to abduct an innocent computer should be prepared to face the consequences," he retorted. "Let me have control or you're going to get us in a wreck!"
"Creepy computer!" the cabbie retorted. "I didn't bargain for any of this!" Finally he wrenched control of the steering wheel away from Vincent and swerved the cab violently to the right.
"No, you fool!" Vincent exclaimed. "I brought up a map of this entire area. You've put us right next to a . . ."
The cabbie shrieked as the cliff loomed ahead of them. He opened the door, flying out onto the grass.
Vincent had no choice but to bail out as well. He sprang out of the car and tumbled down a hill, rolling over and over through the grass and leftover autumn leaves. Right before he hit the bottom and blacked out, he heard the cab crash and explode.
Barney was beside himself with panic. Vincent should have arrived long ago if he had found a legitimate ride. Barney had sent more than one email, desperate for a reply, but there had only been silence. Checking with the neighbors had finally resulted in one of them remembering what cab company the taxi had come from, but calling the company had resulted in very unhelpful information. The cab was still out with Vincent, as far as the dispatch office knew, but it wouldn't respond to the radio.
By now the students were worried too. Barney never cancelled a class unless there were extremely extenuating circumstances. He had taught more than one class while recovering from some disaster or another. But Vincent missing left him completely unable to concentrate and the students encouraged him just to focus on finding his best friend.
Barney was grateful. He had a good class, he thought to himself as he dialed Baxter's cellphone. They appreciated both him and Vincent, rather than just seeing them as the means to achieve college credit in a difficult course.
"Barney?" Baxter sounded confused when he answered. "Is something wrong? I thought you'd be teaching the morning class right now."
"I can't teach it today," Barney growled. "You're right, something is very wrong." He quickly proceeded to explain, while Baxter listened and gasped in horrified alarm.
"Barney, what are you going to do?!" he exclaimed.
"I need to find out from the telephone company where that mysterious call came from," Barney growled. "The only thing on the caller I.D. is 'Pay Phone.' Chances are it won't really help to know the location; this was all carefully planned down to the last detail. But it's the only clue I have."
Baxter was silent, thinking. "Another thing we could try is getting out a map and figuring out the most likely routes the driver could have taken." He started typing on his work computer. "I'm going to do that right now. And I'll let the Turtles know what's going on. They may be able to help."
"We need all the help we can get," Barney growled. "You do that. I'm going to see if I can get the phone company to be of any use." And he hung up without saying Goodbye.
Baxter didn't mind. After all, they were both just so worried about Vincent. And, Baxter was afraid, Barney was probably blaming himself for what had happened.
The first thing he did was to attempt sending an email. Barney had no doubt already tried, but Baxter felt he needed to try as well.
Vincent, are you alright?!
He resisted the urge to say "Please answer." Of course Vincent would if he could.
He bit his lip as he turned back to his computer and calculated routes. The most likely looked like a path into the mountains. He got up from his desk, taking out his Turtle-Comm as he headed for the door.
"Hey, Baxter Dude," Michelangelo greeted. "What's up?"
"Trouble," Baxter told him. "Poor Vincent is missing and it looks like someone deliberately separated him and Barney to get at him!"
"No way!" Michelangelo gasped. "Who would do that?!"
"I don't know!" Baxter moaned. "Pinky McFingers is still in jail and it doesn't sound like Shredder and Krang's style. But I'm tentatively calculating that the taxi cab Vincent took may have detoured towards the mountains."
"Oh yeah?" Michelangelo sounded strange.
Baxter didn't like that tone of voice at all. "What is it, Michelangelo?" he asked. His stomach was knotting even without knowing.
"Well, it's probably nothing, but we just heard on the news that April was up in the Channel 6 helicopter and she saw what looked like a crashed car burning at the bottom of a cliff. . . ." From Michelangelo's face and voice, he clearly didn't want to be telling this. But at the same time, he realized Baxter needed to know.
Baxter felt light-headed. He stumbled into the wall. "W-What?!" he choked out.
"Hey, I'm sure it's nothing to do with Vincent!" Michelangelo tried to say. "Look, we'll all come out there and pick you up and we'll go out and look for Vincent. Okay?"
Baxter managed a nod. "Thank you, Michelangelo." He really wanted to leave right now, but he wondered if he was in any condition to drive. Then it suddenly occurred to him that he had a far worse task ahead of him than waiting for his friends to pick him up.
He had to contact Barney and tell him about the wrecked car.
Vincent groaned, holding a hand to the top of the laptop as he rose up from the pile of leftover autumn leaves. He knew about the organic phenomenon of ringing in the ears, but he hadn't known that there was a computer equivalent until now. When he had been forced to jump from the plummeting taxi and down the hill, he had apparently jolted himself unconscious from the impact. Now he was waking up and there was no Internet signal, no way to let Barney or Baxter know where he was and that he needed help.
And a child was staring down at him.
"Are you okay?"
He jumped a mile before turning to look at said child. A blond boy, perhaps around eleven, with a turtle shell backpack. . . . No, the shell was tied over the backpack. . . .
"Yes," he said slowly. "I saw your picture in the Ninja Turtles' scrapbook. . . ."
The boy's eyes went wide. "You've seen the scrapbook?! They don't show it to just anybody, you know."
"I know." Vincent drew up his knees and laid his arms on them. "They invited me and my brothers to see it. You're the . . . fifth Turtle. Zach?"
"Yeah!" Zach plopped down next to him. "So . . . who are you?"
"Vincent." He studied the kid. "You don't wonder why a computer has a body?"
"If you know the Turtles, you're probably one of Donatello's inventions, right?" Zach chirped.
Vincent rubbed the back of his neck. "No, I'm not." But then he frowned. He needed to get home, somehow. And the Turtles obviously put a great deal of trust in Zach, to name him the fifth Turtle. Getting the boy on his side would probably be a wise move. Telling him the truth might hinder rather than help. But it was too late now.
"You're not?" Zach looked confused as well as disappointed.
"I'm an alien computer," Vincent explained. "My body is made of solid energy."
"Oh, you use one of that Mellish guy's solid energy generators," Zach said.
"No . . . I use a process invented by Dr. Barney Stockman," Vincent said.
"Oh." Zach frowned and looked down at the ground.
Vincent didn't like where this was going. "You don't like him?"
Zach shrugged. "I don't even know him. I just know that he and his brother are real chummy with the Turtles these days." He sighed. "I haven't seen much of them in ages."
"Surely you don't blame that on Baxter and Barney," Vincent frowned.
"Nah. . . . But I feel kind of sad anyway," Zach said. "They never check in with me. They're always too busy with their new friends."
"They checked in with you before?" Vincent pointedly asked.
Zach cringed. "No. . . . And I'm not supposed to contact them on the Turtle-Comm unless it's an emergency. Sometimes I kind of wonder if they just gave it to me to humor me."
"They told me you were welcome to visit any time," Vincent said.
"I've been busy with school and after-school stuff," Zach sighed. "My parents want to keep me busy. I think they're hoping I'll make some human friends."
"Would that be so terrible?" Vincent wondered.
Another shrug. "I have Caitlyn. I don't know why I need more human friends. The Turtles are great."
"But they are also very busy, as you pointed out," Vincent said. "There have been a lot of criminals trying to conquer the world lately."
"There always are.
"So, what were you doing jumping out of that cab and rolling down that hill?" Zach wanted to know.
"If you can believe it, that taxi driver was trying to abduct me," Vincent said. "He behaved foolishly and I had to get out before the cab went over a cliff. Now I don't know how to get home. There's no Internet up here; I can't contact Baxter and Barney for help."
"I can take you home," Zach said.
"You can?" Hope came into Vincent's eyes.
"But um, I can't leave yet, unless I sneak off," Zach said. "I'm up here with a Scout troup."
Vincent felt like groaning. "For how long?"
"A few days," Zach said sheepishly.
"Isn't there a radio or some form of communication at your campsite?" Vincent pleaded.
"Sure," Zach said. "But it's with the Scoutmaster. If any of us want to use it, we have to have a pretty darn good reason."
"I need to get home," Vincent exclaimed. "My brothers are going to be worried about me. Isn't that a good enough reason?"
"I sure think so," Zach said, "but I don't know what he'll think. And . . . wait, your brothers?!"
"Baxter and Barney," Vincent said.
"They really think of you that way?" Zach blinked. "That's awesome."
"I think of them that way in turn," Vincent said. "I'm fairly well-accepted in the city; I help Barney teach and I've been on the news occasionally. Your Scoutmaster may have seen me there. And even if he hasn't, won't he have enough compassion to let me use the radio for five minutes?!"
"I hope so," Zach said. "We can try." He stood. "Can you get up?"
Vincent wobbled but got to his feet. Zach took his hand.
". . . What if he won't let either of us use it?" Vincent asked.
"Then I'll try to sneak out with you," Zach said. "My Turtle-Comm doesn't work up here, but maybe if we go farther down the mountain I'll be able to get a signal."
"I don't want you to get in any trouble because of me," Vincent frowned.
"Hey, it's like you said: I'm the fifth Turtle!" Zach retorted. "And the fifth Turtle has to take risks to help anyone who needs it!"
Vincent finally smiled a bit. Zach really took this fifth Turtle thing seriously. And the Turtles wouldn't have made Zach an honorary part of the team if he wasn't able to handle the occasional mission.
"Alright," he said then. "Let's just see what happens and take what comes."
Unfortunately, as they started to walk, "what came" was the criminals from the second car. "Hey, look!" one said to the other. "There's that walking computer now! And he's got a brat with him!"
Zach turned and glowered at the thugs. "I'll have you know I'm the fifth Ninja Turtle!" he cried.
"Nevermind!" Vincent exclaimed. He shot a burst of electricity at the crooks and grabbed Zach's wrist, fleeing into the trees and brush.
"Aww, we could've taken them!" Zach protested.
"They have guns," Vincent said harshly. "Have the Turtles ever let you fight criminals with guns?"
"I've taken on Bebop and Rocksteady and their blasters!" Zach boasted.
"These guns have bullets," Vincent said. "Do you know what it's like to be shot?"
"Well, no," Zach said slowly.
"I don't want to be responsible for that happening to you," Vincent said. He paused, listening. The thugs were crashing through the bushes behind them. "Nevermind about taking me back to the city. I'll find my own way there."
"They've seen us together now," Zach retorted. "If we get separated, they might just go after me thinking they'll get at you that way! Or what if they follow me back to the campsite and the whole troop gets in danger?!"
Vincent stiffened. He hated to admit it, but the boy had a valid point.
A bullet sailed past overhead and struck a tree branch. It fell down right in their path.
"This way!" Zach cried, grabbing Vincent's wrist now. He pulled the computer through a complicated series of bushes and trees as the men continued to give chase. But by the time they emerged into a clearing, they were alone. "I knew that'd lose them!" the kid grinned.
"That's great, but where are we now?" Vincent frowned.
"Well . . . unfortunately, we're not too close to the campsite anymore," Zach sheepishly admitted. "We're on the other side of the mountain. But we're close to one of my favorite spots that I like to come to when I want to be alone."
Thunder boomed above them and Vincent flinched. "I can't be out in a heavy rainstorm," he exclaimed. "Do you have a solution for that, too?"
"Sure!" Zach tugged on his wrist. "The place where I like to go is a cave."
"An empty cave, I hope," Vincent shot back.
"Of course!" Zach guided him around to a series of rock steps leading up to said cave. "We'll be safe and dry in here. And when I don't come back soon, they'll start looking for me."
"Does anyone else know you like this cave?" Vincent asked. He cringed as the thunder came again, louder this time. He scrambled up the steps in mounting alarm.
". . . No," Zach slowly admitted. "Come on, get inside!"
Vincent practically leaped into the cave as the sky split and sheets of rain poured down. He moved back as far as he could go. "At least those strongarms are going to get wet," he smirked.
Zach laughed. "Yeah!" He regarded his new companion with curiosity. "Are they after you because you're an alien computer?"
"I think that's part of it," Vincent said.
"How'd you end up on Earth anyway?" Zach wondered.
"That," Vincent said, "is a long story."
"Well," Zach shrugged, "I'm pretty sure we've got plenty of time."
Barney's heart and stomach had decided to take up gymnastics in the time it took Baxter to reach him and deliver the horrible news about the crashed car. April was on the ground with it by now, and she had to sadly confirm that it was a taxi cab.
It was probably only Barney's insistent determination to prove that it was not the cab Vincent had taken that kept him from crashing himself on the way to the accident site. His thoughts were doing horrible somersaults. It couldn't be the cab Vincent had been in. And even if it was, he had surely gotten out. Vincent was resourceful. When Barney could get there, Vincent would probably be strolling over from the mountain, just fine. . . .
By the time Barney pulled up at the site, the Turtle Van was already there. Vincent, unfortunately, wasn't. Barney got out, going over to his brother and his new friends with mounting dread. "What's happened?" he choked. "Do they know yet if anyone was inside?"
"The rescue crew is looking it over right now," Baxter said. Fear and anguish were in his eyes.
Michelangelo looked at him sadly. "Hey, I'm sure everything's okay," he said. "Vincent wouldn't have been in there! We don't even know that was the cab he took!"
"Unfortunately, yes, we do," Barney rasped. "I got the number of the cab from the dispatcher. That door that tore free and didn't burn is showing the same number." He pointed at the severed door laying in the dead grass.
April was standing apart from them, filming as the rescue crew stepped back from the burned-out remains of the cab. She gasped in horror when she realized what one of them was holding. "Oh no. . . ."
"This was in the passenger seat," the firefighter reported.
Michelangelo's initial concern over realizing the firefighter was one of those whom Baxter had changed into a giant termite in the past evaporated at the sight of what the man was holding out. "It can't be," he said. He felt sick.
Baxter went sheet-white. At his side, Barney had gone utterly stiff. Almost mechanically, he reached for the charred shell of a dark laptop.
The firefighter laid it in his arms. "I guess this is really evidence and we shouldn't have moved it until the police got here, but . . . can you tell if it's . . . well . . . your friend?" He regarded Barney and Baxter with sympathy and kindness rather than repulsion and disgust. If he realized Baxter was the one who had hurt him in his madness, it didn't seem to matter to him.
Barney just stared at it, completely blank. He couldn't think, couldn't speak. Now that he was holding the laptop, he couldn't make himself move any more.
Baxter laid a trembling hand on the laptop. "Vincent?" he quavered. Of course it was hopeless. It was too badly destroyed to even tell what the original color had been. Most of the circuitry was exposed and also damaged or destroyed. The motherboard was twisted and warped.
Michelangelo drew an arm around Baxter's shoulders. "Hey, there's no way to know that's him," he said. "Why would he be in the passenger seat?"
"Why did any of this happen?" Baxter countered morosely. "Why did someone want to separate him from Barney?"
"Well, I don't believe that's him," Raphael growled. "Not after everything he's been through and survived!"
"And why would he have been in the passenger seat?" Leonardo frowned. "Something's fishy about this whole thing!"
"We should still run some tests to be sure," Donatello said. He looked to the firefighter. "Can we take this with us?"
"I . . . I don't know," the firefighter stammered.
"That might get him in trouble, guys," April said softly.
"But we're the only ones who could figure out if this was Vincent," Donatello said. "The police wouldn't be able to tell."
"What about the solid energy generator?" Raphael said. "Does it look like anything like that's there?!"
"I can't tell," Baxter sobbed, shaking his head. "Oh Barney, please say something!" He looked to his brother in frightened despair.
". . . I asked him if he had money for the cab," Barney said blankly. "He said Yes and I said Good. That was the last thing I said to him. . . ."
"Barney, this might not be Vincent!" Baxter cried.
"And if it's not, will they even send search-and-rescue teams after him?" Barney said. At last he came back to the present, looking to Baxter with anguished and furious eyes. "He's not an organic being. No one will want to take time to look for him, aside from us right here. They'll say they can't waste valuable resources to find someone's computer. They'll tell us to get another one. But we can't get another one! There isn't another one! There's only one Vincent!" His knees buckled and he started to crash into the dead grass.
It was Raphael who hauled him back up. "We'll take this mountain apart if we have to," he vowed. "If he's up there, we'll find him!"
Thunder boomed and they looked up. The rain wasn't hitting at the bottom of the cliff, but it looked like the entire mountainside above them was being soaked.
That seemed to zap Barney's last threads of hope. "Vincent can't be out in the rain," he whispered. "If this isn't him, he must be on that mountain. He's still as good as dead."
Baxter's shoulders slumped. "Oh Barney. . . ." His ability to be strong was gone. He collapsed against his brother, his forehead resting on Barney's shoulder.
Barney didn't react. Instead he kept holding the laptop shell while staring up into the drenched mountain. "One way or another, he's dead," he said quietly. "He's dead. . . ."
At the moment, no one knew how to disagree.
Hours had passed as the rain continued to fall. Zach had asked question after question about Vincent's systems and operations. Many of the questions were very technical. Clearly he was both knowledgeable about and interested in computers. Vincent had to admit he liked it. The boy was so innocent, so enthusiastic, so accepting. Vincent wouldn't be surprised if he did great things with computers some day. Vincent was happy to answer all of the queries.
Upon request, Vincent was also telling Zach many of his adventures of traveling through space and visiting all kinds of planets and cultures. It had long ago grown dark, but Zach didn't seem the least bit tired. He was completely enthralled.
"Why would you ever want to stay on Earth after going all around like that?" he exclaimed.
"I didn't have much choice at first," Vincent said. "My ship crashed and all of the crew was killed." His eyes darkened. "And I was abandoned by my home planet. They didn't consider me worth a trip to Earth. They actually told me they could just make more and cut off communications with me."
"That's awful," Zach gasped. "So you were really all alone?"
"Except for the robots, and they were programmed only to perform certain functions. They weren't alive like me." Vincent sighed. "I liked radio and television after they were invented, but it still wasn't like having someone to be with. I used to dream that someday I would have a friend. My home planet didn't believe in friendship, finding it unnecessary and even detrimental, but I saw how friendship improved the lives of people we visited and I never stopped wanting it. I longed for it even more after I saw a television series about a man and his living car."
"That sounds really cool!" Zach exclaimed.
"It was," Vincent said. "The early episodes kept emphasizing that the car didn't really have feelings, but they soon dropped that, I imagine because the audience knew better. I used to feel that the people who made that series would understand me."
"And then you finally met those Stockman guys." Zach sounded a little subdued again.
"Not at the same time, but yes," Vincent said. "And with each of them, they clearly wanted and needed a friend too. So we gradually became close and eventually all became a family together."
"That's pretty neat." Zach leaned against the wall of the cave, then shivered and moved away from it again. "You picked your own family and you all understood each other and stuff."
Vincent picked up on what the boy was not saying. "Don't you get along with your family?" he asked.
"Well . . ." Zach hesitated. "Things have been better with my brother Walt since he got made an honorary Turtle too. Our parents . . . well, they try and I try, but we don't always understand each other. I understand the Turtles better."
"No family understands each other all the time," Vincent said. "If you were around the Turtles more, I'm sure you'd find yourself surprised by some of the things you'd learn about them. You haven't actually interacted with them that often, have you?"
Zach hesitated. "No," he slowly admitted. "I guess I . . . make things up about them in my mind. But it's always based on how they've been when I have seen them."
"And maybe you'd find that they're actually different from some of what you've been picturing," Vincent said.
"Maybe," Zach said noncommittally. "But they have an awesome relationship with Splinter. And you and those Stockmans must have a really good relationship too."
"No family is always a bed of roses," Vincent said. "When I first met Baxter, he was out of his mind. I had to be very patient with him because as time went on, he couldn't retain much of anything for more than a few minutes. But I loved him anyway and I never gave up on him.
"Then with Barney, he was so angry and he hated Baxter. I had to try to help him calm down and get to a point where he could feel ready to overcome that. There were many times when it was difficult to deal with his rage, but I didn't give up on him either."
"So . . . you're saying I should keep trying with my parents?" Zach frowned.
"I'm saying that every family requires effort. I realize that some families are so fractured there really isn't much that can be done. Baxter and Barney's parents are a good example of that. But I think sometimes people look at other families and think they're so much easier or better than the one they have, and maybe if they were in the other families, they would see that wasn't quite true." Vincent looked at Zach. "I don't know anything about your home life, but when I think of the 300 years I spent all alone, I can't help thinking that as long as they don't actually treat you unkindly, I would be grateful just to have a family at all."
Zach looked down. "I get what you're saying, and I know they never mean to not be kind. But like . . . okay, so this one time I got so caught up in these epic alien comic books I was reading and started thinking that we were having alien invasions all over the place. I really caused some trouble, but I didn't mean to, and instead of trying to talk to me about it, my parents thought the solution was to send me to military school. It was the Turtles and Master Splinter who thought about talking to me instead."
"Military school does seem . . . extreme," Vincent remarked. "It's normal for children's imaginations to run wild at times."
"Yeah!" Zach looked up again. "Then the military school ended up being the site of a real alien invasion, so that let me off the hook and I got to go back home. My parents really have been trying harder since then. My dad even got interested in the alien comic books too. But well . . . it's still kind of like . . ." He held up his hands with the fingers together and moved them closer to each other, then deliberately had them fail to make contact. "Like that. We still don't really get each other."
"It's possible that you never will," Vincent admitted. "But there's also the chance that if you keep trying, something good might come of it."
"I guess it's possible." Zach paused, somewhat embarrassed as his stomach growled. "Ooops. . . ."
"It's late," Vincent realized after consulting with his clock. "And it's still raining. Do you have anything to eat?"
Zach got into his backpack and pulled out an energy bar. "The emergency supplies," he said. "Guess this is an emergency." He opened the bar and slowly started to eat. "I wonder if my troop realizes I'm missing now. . . ."
"I'm sure they do," Vincent said in surprise. "I know Baxter and Barney must be absolutely frantic about me."
Zach frowned a bit at the bar. "Do you know why the Turtles got so chummy with those Stockman guys?"
"There were a lot of reasons," Vincent said, frowning a bit as well. "They felt they needed to help Baxter when he was finally turned human again and was very sick, and then they gradually began forming friendships with him. When Barney started turning his life around and tried to help them, the same thing started to happen." He paused. "But as far as 'those Stockman guys' go, I'm also a Stockman. Maybe not officially and legally, but to Baxter and Barney I am."
"That's true," Zach relented. "I'm sorry. I shouldn't be jealous of them, I know. . . . It's funny that I've never really been jealous of April. Maybe it's because they were bad guys and I just wonder how the Turtles could end up so close to them under the circumstances."
"Michelangelo's forgiving nature had a lot to do with it," Vincent said. "And the fact that they're both good people. They just made some bad choices. So did I."
"Yeah. . . ." Zach finished the energy bar and dug in his backpack for a blanket. "We're probably gonna be here for a while yet. It's supposed to rain all night."
"Wonderful," Vincent muttered.
"Do you get cold?" Zach offered half the blanket.
Vincent took it in touched surprise. "Not the same way organic beings do, but yes." He pulled it around himself.
Zach burrowed into the other half, shivering as the wind from outside blew into the cave.
"You're still cold," Vincent observed.
"No, I'm not," Zach insisted. He turned away from the mouth of the cave.
"It would be better if you didn't wake up with some sort of human ailment in the morning," Vincent said. He moved closer to Zach and drew the boy into his arms. "How's this?"
Initially Zach was going to protest, but then he thought better of it. "Hey, you're actually pretty warm," he realized. "Thanks."
"There are definite advantages to having a body made of energy," Vincent said.
It had been a long day and Zach was soon asleep. Vincent smiled a bit, but sadness and worry filled his eyes as he looked out at the pouring rain. "Baxter . . . Barney . . . I'm so sorry," he whispered. "Please forgive me. I'd be home right now if I could."
But that was impossible and he needed strength for the journey on the morrow. So, resting against the wall of the cave, he slowly slipped to sleep.
The mood below the mountain was still very solemn as day gave way to night. The police arrived to examine the wrecked car, but although they were not thrilled at the idea of the Turtles taking possession of the laptop, they had to concede that the Turtles would know better if it was alien technology. However, the officer in charge insisted, the Turtles would have to stay in contact with the police and inform them of what they learned.
"I don't know," Donatello frowned. "Working with the police? We've never done that before, unless you want to count Rex-1."
"It's the only way they'll let you have the laptop," Baxter said, his voice filled with desperation and sadness. "I know it must be difficult for you, but please. . . . We need to know if . . . if this is . . ." He trailed off. He couldn't say it.
"Come on, Dude," Michelangelo said, looking to Donatello. "We've wanted to get in better with the police, if we could. Maybe this'll help."
"As long as we're careful, I think it's worth a try," Leonardo said.
Raphael frowned. "I don't trust the police, but we need this laptop."
Donatello heaved a sigh. "Alright, we'll try it. I just hope we won't regret it."
". . . What about searching for Vincent in case he is in the mountains?" Barney asked.
Everyone looked to him. It was the first thing he'd said in quite some time.
"We'll all look for him in the morning," Leonardo promised. "I'm sure Master Splinter will help too."
"And Irma and I'll come," April said.
Baxter gave a weak smile. "Thank you. . . ."
Overhearing their conversation, the head firefighter came back over to them. "This computer of yours really is alive?" he asked.
"He really is," Baxter nodded.
"Well, I'm afraid you're probably right that the department wouldn't agree, but I'd like to help on my own," the man offered.
Baxter stared at him. "You'd do that?" He shifted uncomfortably. "I . . . I did something horrible to you in the past. . . . I've vaguely started to remember it the longer I'm around you."
"I know," the firefighter replied.
"You knew and you said nothing?!" Baxter was stunned.
"Hey, you weren't in your right mind," the firefighter told him. "And you and your brother love that computer so much. . . . That's worth some of my time."
Baxter shook his head. "I don't know what to say. . . ."
"I do!" April exclaimed. "What a wonderful human interest story! And maybe by putting it out there, we could find some more people willing to help look for Vincent!"
The firefighter looked awkward. "I didn't mean for there to be any big publicity over it. I just want to do the right thing, and I think that's helping these people. But if you think it might get some more people interested, well, alright."
April beamed and powered up her camera.
Barney stepped away from the filming to stare up at the mountain again. "Before anyone can even go up there and start searching, we have to wait for morning. And probably for the rain to stop. What's the likelihood that he'll really still be alive by then? He's probably dead now."
"Hey, don't count him out yet, Barney Dude." Michelangelo came over and stood beside him. "Vincent's resourceful! Maybe he found someplace to hide and wait out the storm."
A bit of hope flickered in Barney's eyes. "He would certainly be capable of it. But there might not be any place for him to find. It would only take a few minutes in a downpour for all of his systems to short out." He shuddered. "Even then, he might still recover if he could be helped right away. If not . . ." He trailed off.
"Let's not think about the If Nots!" Michelangelo insisted. "Let's think about the good stuff!"
"I . . . wish I could." Barney spoke haltingly, sorrowfully. "I'm sure you remember that I was always the cynical one. Baxter was the one who had hope. Even he isn't sure what to make of any of this."
"We're all in your corner, Amigo," Michelangelo said. "Even Raphael. We're not giving up on Vincent. Not yet."
"That's right!" Raphael nodded.
The police officer in charge suddenly came over to the group. "Does anyone here know a boy named Zach?" he asked.
That brought everyone's attention up. "Of course," Leonardo said in surprise.
"What about him?" Michelangelo blinked. "I hope the microdude hasn't got himself in any trouble."
"I'd say it's trouble," the policeman replied. "He was on that mountain up there with a Scout troop. I just got a distress call from the Scoutmaster. Zach's been gone all day and he still hasn't come back."
Everyone exchanged stricken looks.
"What if Zach saw what happened to Vincent?" Donatello worried.
"And like, maybe the bad guys carted him off," Michelangelo added, his eyes wide.
Barney stared at them. "This is the Zach you named the fifth Turtle?!"
"That's right," Leonardo frowned. "And this really is a worry. He definitely could have seen something!"
"And those scuzz-buckets really might have taken him with them!" Raphael added.
Finished with the filming, Baxter ran over to them. "What's going on?!" he exclaimed. "A child is mixed up in this now?!"
"It sure looks like a possibility," Leonardo said.
"And like, we won't be able to look for Zach until morning, either!" Michelangelo said. "He might still be on that mountain. He could've got caught in the storm!"
Barney looked sick. "This keeps getting worse and worse."
The police officer went back to his unit and spoke on the radio. Then he came back, looking somberly from Baxter to Barney. "A couple of officers picked up a cab driver coming out of the mountains," he reported. "He was soaking wet. He claimed this was his cab and as far as he knew, your . . . computer friend was in it when it went over the cliff."
Baxter paled. Barney stiffened again, but he was the one who responded. "Did he say anything else?" His voice was clipped, but that didn't disguise the pain. If anything, it emphasized it.
"It took a while, but he finally confessed it was Big Louie who put him up to trying to kidnap your . . . friend."
Now Baxter found his voice. "What on Earth for?!"
"Apparently word had got around about its . . . his abilities and Big Louie wanted to see what made him tick." The policeman frowned. "A couple of officers are going to bring him for questioning now. If you want to talk to him, he should be at the nearest precinct by the time we get back."
"You bet we want to talk to him!" Raphael snarled. "He had no right to go trying to take Vincent like that!"
Barney turned away, shutting his eyes in pain. "I worried that something like this might happen," he said. "It was another reason why I hesitated to let Vincent roam around town. But I didn't want to restrain him. . . . It made him so happy. . . ."
Baxter came up next to him. "You did the right thing, Barney," he said softly. "Vincent had the right to make his own decision. He wouldn't have been happy just being cooped up inside all the time if that was the only way to use the solid energy generator. That would have kept him apart from you a lot of the time."
"He said he was willing to just be a regular laptop if that was the only way I felt he could come with me," Barney answered.
"And he would have been," Baxter agreed. "But could you or I have really done that to him? When he had a body, he wanted to use it."
Finally Barney's shoulders slumped in his consent. "No. I couldn't have done that. But . . . to have our time with him cut so short. . . . It isn't fair . . . or right . . . for any of us." His voice darkened.
"No, it isn't," Baxter said. "But Vincent was so happy that we were all a family. I don't think he would change anything."
"I would," Barney replied. "That I left today without him." And he walked to his car without another word.